``Howdy'' is the usual greeting when ranchers get together at the early morning cattle auctions in this city's stockyards. Businessmen in 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots haggle over prices. At lunch, the talk is apt to be of oil. Yet despite its Old West feel, this prairie city, which will play host to the winter Olympic Games next month, is very much in tune with the times.
Blend of sophistication, simplicity
It was back in the '70s that a dozen farsighted business people put in a bid to make their city the first in Canada to host the games.
Today, there's no shortage of civic pride here. And Calgarians aren't swayed by their city's apparently paradoxical blend of sophistication and unabashed simplicity.
The city has built several world-class arenas to house events for the XV Olympic Winter Games (Feb. 13-28) and a new performing arts center for the Olympic Arts Festival (Jan. 23-Feb. 28). In addition, the downtown area sparkles with plenty of night life - both formal and Western.
Located on the banks of two meandering glacier-fed rivers, Calgary sprawls for nearly 200 square miles over rolling foothills, which separate the rangelands and golden grain fields to the east from the staggering peaks of the Rockies to the west.
Founded in the summer of 1875 by a contingent of scarlet-coated Northwest Mounted Police, Calgary grew in 20 years from a humble fort to a full-fledged city, surrounded by open-range cattle ranches. The region boasted probably the last contingent of cowboys on the continent.
Ranchers are fond of saying that Calgary was their town until the oilmen took over in the '40s. In any event, the skyline rose with each passing year.
During the '70s, an explosion in oil wealth translated into an extravagance of gleaming glass skyscrapers that prompted then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to remark, ``Calgary looks as though it's just been unpacked.''
One constant throughout the city's century-long history has been the Calgary Stampede - 10 days of rodeo events in July that today attract a million visitors, who come not only to watch but to take part in flapjack breakfasts, square dances, chuck-wagon barbecues, and street parties.
The Stampede is as wild as the West gets in the late '80s, and Calgarians expect the Olympics to be just as much fun.
The sports facilities are impressive. The 17,000-seat Olympic Saddledome arena will serve as the venue for hockey and figure skating. Downhill skiing will take place at Nakiska, a sparkling new alpine resort tucked into the mountains 60 miles west of the city. Ski jumpers and bobsledders will compete at the Canada Olympic Park on the western edge of the city, with its bluff overlooking the Bow River. The Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary is the world's first fully-enclosed 400-meter speed-skating track.
In addition to the games and associated arts festival, the city will offer winter visitors several other attractions. These include the zoo on St. George's Island in the Bow River; Heritage Park, a re-creation of pre-1915 Western life; and Bow Valley Ranch, an aristocratic Anglo-Canadian rancher's home dating back to 1896.
Skier practicing atop a pickup truck
Ten years ago, when Calgary's interest in the games started to grow, the local hero was Olympic ski-racing medalist ``Jungle'' Jim Hunter. He was the ranch boy who had risen to international fame.
As the story goes, he used to practice for ski racing by holding on to the back of his father's tractor as it went round and round in the fields.
Another time, Hunter is said to have mounted his skis on the top of his father's pickup truck, and, with ``Pa'' at the wheel, they sped down prairie roads to see just what it would feel like to travel at 70 miles per hour on skis. In some ways, Hunter is the quintessential Calgarian.
Ever since the trans-Canada railroad started bringing passengers west in 1883, Calgary has also been known as the gateway to the Rockies. Banff, site of Canada's oldest and most loved national park, is only 60 miles away.
To the east of the city, the Red Deer River Badlands offer a graphic view of millions of years of geological history, rich with fossilized remains from the dinosaur age.
Though most major events are sold out and hotel reservations are hard to find in the city, one can contact a travel agent or the Olympic Ticket Office, Box 1988, Station M, Calgary, Alberta T2P 4E7, (403) 277-8888, for information about remaining tickets and lodging.
A few package tours, including accommodations at Chateau Lake Louise, car rental, skiing, and tickets to two Alpine ski events, are still available through Target Sports Tours, 221 Washington St., Newton, MA 02158; (617) 332-1300.
Highlights of Games and Festival Opening ceremonies. Feb. 13, 1 p.m. (all listings in mountain time). Alpine ski men's downhill races. Feb. 14, 11:30 a.m. Luge - men's finals. Feb. 15, 10 a.m. Figure skating - pairs free skate. Feb. 16, 6 p.m. Alpine ski women's downhill races. Feb. 18, 11:30 a.m. Ski jumping - 90-meter competition. Feb. 20, 1:30 p.m. Two-man bobsled. Feb. 21, 10 a.m. Freestyle skiing - aerials. Feb. 21, 1:30 p.m. Alpine ski men's slalom. Feb. 27, 10:30 a.m. Figure skating - women's free skate. Feb. 27, 5:30 p.m. Hockey finals. Feb. 28, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada's First Peoples. Exhibition at the Glenbow Museum, Jan. 15-May 1. `Olympic Jazz Suite.' World premi`ere by pianist Oscar Peterson, Jan. 23, Olympic Saddledome, 8 p.m. `La Trag'edie de Carmen.' The Peter Brook production from Paris, at University Theatre, Feb. 17-20 and 22-23, 8 p.m. Cirque du Soliel. The Montreal-based circus performs at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Feb. 25-27, 8 p.m.