Calgary is well-known for its hospitality and entrepreneurial spirit but there’s likely a lot you don’t know about this destination that is attracting a new kind of event planner, one who is concentrating on providing an unparalleled guest experience. One of the most popular ways to do that is by hosting unique team-building and team-cultivating event activities to strengthen your conference programming.
Years ago, organizations turned to things like trust falls to build their teams. These days, groups are looking for more extraordinary bonding time and less forced, silly exercises.
Located in Alberta, Canada, Calgary offers a wide variety of experiences for event planners and organizations looking for something a little different. Not only is it home to world-class venues but it’s also an area rich in outdoor and inspiring activities, to add the edge to your corporate event or conference.
Here are over 20 ideas and reasons why many event planners are deciding Calgary is the best setting for bringing their teams together.
THE OUTDOORS AND ADVENTURE TO UNIFY YOUR GROUP
Team-building activities in nature bring an entirely different aspect to traditional team building. Plus, being outdoors has tons of health benefits. Walking in nature has been shown to improve short-term memory and reduce stress levels. With team members feeling better, they’ll be more able to connect with and benefit from the team-building activities. Being outdoors can rejuvenate your team, and ensure they bring a fresh mind and their best selves to the conference programming
If your group prefers to get their dose of the outdoors within the city limits, hosting a walking meeting on Calgary’s Peace Bridge can provide a pleasant distraction from a boardroom. The pedestrian pathway and bike path is often referred to as the “Finger Trap Bridge” because its helical steel structure resembles that of a finger trap puzzle. The bridge connects the southern Bow River Pathway with downtown Calgary and is a favorite of visitors and locals alike.
Other outdoor adventures in the city include rafting on the Bow River (which flows through downtown) and looking for wildlife on a photography scavenger hunt at Fish Creek Provincial Park. There, it’s not uncommon to see deer and coyotes while still enjoying views of downtown.
For those who enjoy a more historical perspective on an outdoor team-building activity, there are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites within 2.5 hours of Calgary. There’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the uniquely named Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is the home to some of the most important fossil discoveries made to this date, as well as offering the opportunity to paddle in the Red Deer River.
Groups can explore the Royal Tyrell Museum and take part in an authentic archaeologist excavation in authentic quarry using professional tools and techniques. Or, there is a 20-minute raptor assembly activity to create an exact replica of a dinosaur skeleton.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is unique in that it is located on the borders of two countries (and is combined with Glacier National Park on the US side). Visitors enjoy the breathless views and wide-open spaces. With opportunities for hiking, boat cruises, and scenic drives, your team won’t forget where the mountains meet the prairies any time soon.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a name your team will remember indefinitely. This park is a reminder of the buffalo hunting practice by aboriginal people of North America to drive the animals off cliffs in order to use their meat and hides. There are remains of marked trails and a camp as well as 6,000 years of American Bison skeletons. The park offers many unique programs your team can participate in including drumming and dancing on the plaza.
In the Canadian Rocky Mountains, your team can explore the expansive wilderness and views on their own or as part of land or water tours.
Via Ferrata is a great team building experience in Banff which offers an assisted climbing experience along four breathtaking cliff routes. Your group will climb ladders, cross suspension bridges, and marvel at the grandeur of the mountain vistas that surround you.
Your team can unwind in a Nordic Spa, benefitting from the ancient traditions of the hydrotherapy cycle, practiced in Scandinavian wellness circles. The active movement through various water temperatures is said to repair, relax and rejuvenate the mind and body harmoniously for an instant feeling of head-to-toe wellbeing. This could be the perfect way to prepare for the conference ahead or rejuvenate at the end of a corporate event.
Looking for something a little more competitive? You can construct your own version of the old TV show, Fear Factor, with challenges set up to see just how far someone will go to face their fears. This view and the clear walkway alone leave a lot of participants clinging to the Calgary Tower and each other.
Need another activity in your Fear Factor challenge? Fly down North America’s fastest zipline.
Or, how about a bobsled run where participants will feel the force of over 2 G’s? These are just some of the team building activities available at Winsport Canada.
Good to Know: If you opt for a local scavenger hunt or city game like your own version of the Amazing Race, downtown buildings are linked via a skywalk (known locally as the +15). It connects 11 miles of buildings through an indoor walkway. This helps keep attendees safe from traffic and comfortable year round, regardless of weather.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES: ACTIVITIES THAT ARE PURE CALGARY
A unique twist on team-building activities is to use your surroundings to create a completely different experience from something that could be done anywhere else. Sure, you can perform a trust activity or a ropes course anywhere and have very similar experiences. But if you’re in Calgary, why not embrace life on the plains?
What better way to make your team feel part of something larger than by allowing them to become honorary Calgarians? The White Hat Ceremony is part of a traditional Calgary experience and it is often reported as a highlight of many groups’ trips (much like receiving a lei in Hawaii). Meetings + Conventions Calgary can bestow this honor and mark of Calgary’s hospitality with a certificate and a white Smithbilt hat.
To experience the uniqueness of Calgary, why not bring your team to a working cattle ranch where they can experience cowboy life. They’ll learn to rope and drive cattle as well as saddle horses, tie knots, and a number of other activities they won’t learn around the office.
If you want your team to have a completely different Calgarian experience, try a private rodeo or an event during the Stampede. From roping and steering to fast-paced racing or a traditional pancake breakfast, it’s an activity they’ll be talking about for a long time. There are all sorts of packages available including private seating at the Stampede or private events on the Stampede grounds.
The Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) is on a lot of bucket lists and those magnificent colors are probably something your team hasn’t seen before. If you’re visiting Calgary at the right time of year (usually in the winter months but sometimes visible in the summer as well), you may be able to witness this spectacular phenomenon. Best places to view the lights are at Lake Minnewanka and Horseshoe Canyon, or sometimes for really extraordinary shows, in the city itself. But generally, the farther north you go, the more vibrant the light show usually is. Although this is more of a viewing opportunity, it can be an awe-inspiring experience for your group.
One more idea: Prince’s Island Park, in downtown Calgary can make your whole group happy, from playing in a Frisbee tournament to enjoying a festival or outdoor theatre. Plus, it’s near the Calgary Zoo, which offers all sorts of photo games and scavenger hunt possibilities.
For something a little wilder, choose the Zoo-mazing race at the Calgary Zoo, minutes from downtown. Up to 100 people can undertake a series of mental and physical but non-strenuous challenges. It is perfect for outgoing and competitive groups that are used to working together.
EXPLORE CALGARY’S YEAR-ROUND VARIETY OF CULTURAL EVENTS, FESTIVALS, AND ARTS
Explore Calgary’s year-round fun, and with 700-plus annual cultural events in Calgary, you’re bound to find one that fits the interests of your team. There’s also an impressive arts scene in this city. You can create a number of bonding experiences and team-building activities around them.
Calgary offers an appealing art scene and there’s no better way to enjoy it than on foot. Throughout the city, there are beautiful studios and interesting installations. Scout out dozens of amazing photo ops around Calgary including the beautiful “Instagrammable Wall” murals and:
Visit East Village Junction (evJunction), a favorite shopping and relaxation spot. The evJunction is an innovative shopping hub in Calgary created from shipping containers that’s part outdoor retail experience, part pop-up event, and a unique community gathering space. In addition to shopping, East Village Junction offers workshops, live music, art exhibits, and food vendors/food trucks. It’s a vibrant spot that can be enjoyed by all ages. The junction is open Friday - Sunday during the summer through the first few days of September.
Get them dancing in the street with a free dance lesson. Also at evJunction, you can get your team jamming to the tunes at one of the free, outdoor dance lessons offered. Who doesn’t want to learn how to Samba?
Steven Ave Market brings together 60 vendors - fresh food, spices, sauces, treats, art, fashion, jewelry and more in an eclectic fusion.
Several times throughout the year and at different locations, Calgary hosts arts and crafts markets. While some of the most popular are held at Christmas and during the spring at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre and at BMO Centre on Stampede Park it’s possible to find one at almost anytime. They’re put on by community centers, artisans themselves, and other groups. You can also use these fairs as the backdrop for a team photography assignment by giving them a list of things to photograph, like a garden gnome.
An alternative to traditional team building: if your team is not really into team-building activities, you can always catch a hockey game (in season) at the architecturally-interesting Scotia Bank’s Saddledome, home to the Calgary Flames. If it’s not hockey season, you might find a rodeo, concert, or a visit from a world figure there.
REV UP THE FUN
For groups who love sports but have done it all, you might want to consider introducing them to Skijor. This is no ordinary version of horseback riding or cross-country skiing. Instead, it involves very fast horses pulling skiers behind them. Think of it as a winter version of waterskiing. You can have your group go through a circuit or a long jump or create a relay competition between multiple teams. If speed is your thing, try all-out races against team members. This heart-pounding team-building activity is not something your team will soon forget and it’s not for people who enjoy life in the slow lane.
The uber adventurous may also enjoy river surfing in downtown Calgary - one of Calgary’s fastest growing adventure sports.
At the Calgary Fit Fest held at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre, they created a fun Parkour circuit that you could easily create for your own team. Other ideas include creating a simplified version of an American Ninja Warrior course or a boot camp obstacle course. This can be a thrilling team activity for groups that enjoy being active.
Bring out the inner child in the members of your group by checking out what’s going on at the track—the Go-Kart track that is! You can create team shirts, pit different departments against one another, and enjoy a few hours of fun competition. Don’t forget the winner’s circle photo op at the end. You can even bestow a trophy for the winning team to defend next year.
If you want to test your team’s creativity, introduce them to the Derby Challenge where you call upon them to create their own derby cars. Divide them into teams, give them some materials, and watch them dive into the creative challenge. Add a little spice to the competition by substituting teammates, pulling materials at the last moment, and otherwise disrupting their workflow. Reward the teams with a fun race to the finish with one member in the car and the others pushing or pulling it to the finish line the fastest.
The University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre offers a lot of courses in a variety of topics that could work for team building. Topics such as backcountry cooking, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, wilderness first aid, and outdoor survival.
Introduce your team: You know who else has a great team? The Olympics. Stop by the Canadian Olympic Park to check out this massive sports complex, where a lot of tomorrow’s gold winners are training today. While you’re there, take turns becoming a human bonspiel.
Team-building has changed a bit since the early 90s. No longer are trust exercises and forced icebreakers the way to build a cohesive team. These days, it’s the quality time spent together getting to know one another through unique activities that people enjoy.
Calgary is a destination that is attracting a very different kind of event planner. With miles and miles of outdoor space to explore and tons of opportunities to bring your group together, Calgary is the ideal location to host your next team-building event or meeting and has heaps of different options to incorporate into your next conference or corporate event.