Calgary: Stampeding Through God's Country

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

There's nothing like "horsin'around" inAlberta when July brings more than amillion visitors and the 10 top horse ridersin the world to perform at the famousCalgary stampede. Top rodeo riders are invited at thestampede's expense and compete for a huge purse of$1.6 million.

Guinness Book

of Records

The riders don't always win. The declares that no one managed to ride thebronco named Midnight in his 12 appearances at thestampede, when riders rode the horses until theystopped bucking—often a long 10 minutes. Now,horses are bred to dump their riders within the stampede's8-second rule. Therefore, many horses workonly a total of 5 minutes in their entire lives. Some riderslying in the dirt may say that's plenty.

Giddy-up Cowboys and Cowgirls

From humble beginnings in 1912 with 75,000spectators, the Calgary Stampede (800-661-1260;www.calgarystampede.com) has grown to a mammoth10-day festival involving the whole city. Calgarydecorates its stores to resemble a frontier town, andits townspeople wear Western garb. Everyone dons acowboy hat, clowns wander the streets, and visitorsand locals line up for the celebrated free chuckwagonbreakfasts at Rope Park, collectively knocking back 2tons of bacon, 5 tons of pancakes, and 85,000 bottlesof juice. And the "chowing down" doesn't stop there:the stampede fair grounds serve 55 miles of hot dogs,3.6 tons of onions, and 15,000 pounds of coffee tothe cheering crowds.

They're cheering because the spectacle is one-of-a-kind.Afternoons are dedicated to "man and womanagainst the beast" —be it a furious outlaw horse or anenraged 1600-pound bull. During the evenings,chuckwagons race and challenge gravity by nearlyoverturning. Later, the fun continues with a 90-minute, high-tech, Las Vegas-style grandstand showon a 100-foot mobile stage with hundreds of dancersand singers, including the celebrated YoungCanadians and one solitary comedian-bagpiper, whocomes on stage making his instrument sound like apolice siren. He stops suddenly to apologize for this."You see," he says, "I'm only half Scottish. The otherhalf is Irish. This is a problem for me: The half that'sIrish wants to drink all the time; the half that'sScottish doesn't want to pay!"

Deals for Traveling Cowpokes

Today's tourists, who don't want to pay excessivelyfor a vacation, are often taken aback by how hotelprices rise for special occasions. The paradox ofCalgary is that it's so busy and successful during thestampede that many hotels drop their prices.

Hotels vary from those located in downtownCalgary to two classic hotel resorts in Banff and LakeLouise. The advantage of being downtown is closeproximity to the Stampede Parade Day on July 6. Youcan easily stand in the street and watch the parade gopast with its 4000 participants, 800 horses, 75 wagons,30 floats, and 20 bands in a 3-mile line.

The short drive to Banff or Lake Louise also hasits advantages. This World Heritage Site is home toCanada's first National Park and some of the mostbeautiful scenery in North America (403-762-8421;www.banfflakelouise.com). This corner of Albertabecame the site of the Banff Springs Hotel (800-257-7544; www.fairmont.com/banffsprings) in1886. A statue to its Canadian Pacific Railroadfounder, William Cornelius Van Horne, stands inthe courtyard outside the hotel inscribed with hiscelebrated remark, "If we can't export the scenery,we'll import the tourists." The hotel's been importingthem ever since.

Its sister resort, Chateau Lake Louise (403-522-3511; www.fairmont.com/lakelouise/)—a mere 40-minute drive farther up, a magnificent part of theTrans-Canada Highway—sits on the south shore ofthe lake with a gorgeous view of what's been called"God's Own Country." Indeed, the cerulean blueskies, turquoise-green lake, and crisply-carved mountainsare like seeing a piece of heaven on earth. Formore information about visiting Alberta, call 800-252-3782, or visit www1.travelalberta.com/en-us/.