Polish your boots and practice your best "ya-hoo" because the Calgary Stampede is back! When Calgary awakes in a matter of hours, the ground will once again tremor beneath the hooves of broncos and the wheels of chuckwagons. The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is looking pretty good for 101 years old, entering a new era of celebration for the unique people, heritage and landscapes of Canada's Wild West.
Building on the momentum from last year's centennial Stampede, this year's instalment of the 10-day rodeo extravaganza will see a mix of familiar favourites like the float-filled pageantry of the Stampede Parade, and new features including extreme jet-skiers taking centre stage at the Belle Aqua Ranch. But, at the root of it all, the Stampede is about traditional cowboy culture.
"Arriving in Calgary during Stampede is like walking onto a western movie set," says Calgary Stampede's tourism sales manager Lindsay Jardine. Lindsay goes on to describe the cowboy aesthetic that takes over the town each year, from hotels and restaurants adopting a western theme to greeters at the airport ready to welcome visitors, beaming with Calgary pride.
Sweeping across the city every July, Stampede attracts some 1.2 million spectators; around 30 per cent of those making the journey from outside Calgary, even from our own shores. "Stampede has been a popular destination for our Australian visitors for years," says Lindsay. "Australians are used to travelling long haul and western Canada has always been a draw for them with the Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park on our doorstep."
The Calgary Stampede is the world's richest tournament-style rodeo (boasting more than $2 million in prize money) and is an invitation-only event for competitors, attracting only the best in the business. "To a cowboy, the Calgary Stampede is the ultimate rodeo to be invited to compete in," explains Lindsay.
"It's the World Cup, the World Series, the Olympics for the sport of rodeo. Stampede is an authentic celebration of our cowboy and First Nation history and culture which is still very much alive today."
The show-stopping event for many is the chuckwagon race - the GMC Rangeland Derby. Every night, more than 200 horses will kick up the dust on the track and attempt to lead their wagons to victory. Other major events that never fail to draw a crowd include bull riding, steer wrestling and tie-down roping, not to mention an ongoing music festival headlined by celebrated artists such as GRAMMY nominated Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, legendary rockers KISS and multi award-winning country crooner Tim McGraw.
Adding to its already stellar line-up, this year the Stampede will by marshalled by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who made global news after Tweeting breathtaking photographs of earth from the unbeatable vantage point of the International Space Station. There's something for the little buckaroos too, with plenty of family-friendly rides and shows for those "knee-high to a Clydesdale".
If all that action has worked up your appetite, there are 31 new foods on the midway menu this year including deep fried bubble gum, chocolate dipped jalapenos and western cake pops in the shape of cowboy boots and hats. Finish it off with a shot of pure pickle juice - definitely not for the faint of stomach.