The smell of deep-fried curly fries wafts through the air and screams from the Mega Drop echo through Red River Exhibition Park as the 62nd annual Ex gets underway today and runs to June 23.
Loyal fans got their tickets early. "I get excited just knowing that I get to go," said Floyd Henderson. "I love the smell of the food, the atmosphere and all the people. It's like heaven. I've already bought my VIP pass that lets me skip all the lines."
The 24-year-old Sagkeeng resident has been eating pizza sticks and corn dogs at the Ex since he was five and doesn't plan on avoiding the concession stand or his favourite ride, the Orbiter, any time soon.
"I'm going to keep going as long as I can still walk," said Henderson. "It's my favourite thing to do in Winnipeg. I'm an adrenaline junky."
He has attended the Red River Exhibition up to five times in a year. He drives back and forth from Sagkeeng First Nation, 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and spends almost $500 every year on gas, VIP passes and food. Some days, he will go to the Ex by himself, staying from the early afternoon until the early hours of the morning.
Henderson isn't the only one who goes the distance to get to the Ex each year. Collette Moss travels from Pine Falls, 132 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to get her own adrenaline fix. She's been attending the Ex for six years.
"I used to go with my kids, but now I'll go with anyone who will come with me," Moss said. "My favourite ride is the boat because I feel relatively safe in it.
"It's always a little bit crazy deciding which way to go when you enter the gate. Everyone has a different agenda. Everyone is always really excited."
Tonight, the Ex concert series will kick off on the mainstage at 8 p.m. with Canadian country singer Jason Blaine and the Small Town Pistols. Other musical acts this year include Faber Drive, George Canyon, Alan Doyle, Trooper and Glass Tiger.
This year, the Ex plans to expand some events to reach a wider audience.
"We're always looking for what's different and try to engage people," said Garth Rogerson, CEO of the Red River Exhibition Association. "The rides are always important, but the shows are a broader part of the fair."
The Ex's newest attraction is the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, which will conduct search-and-rescue technician demonstrations.
The demonstrations will involve SAR techs parachuting from a CC-130 Hercules aircraft onto a secure landing area on the exhibition grounds daily at 6 p.m. from today to Tuesday and June 21-23, weather permitting.
Other new highlights include a Cavallo horse show, in which both rider and horse perform acrobatic stunts to the sound of Spanish gypsy music. The West Coast Lumberjacks, featured on Canada's Got Talent, will be chopping, sawing and log-rolling all week on stage.
There will be a wide variety of animal shows, art exhibitions, a shopper's market and a talent show.
"There's a little bit of something for everybody," Rogerson said. "There's different sights and sounds and it gets in your blood. People love it and the environment is just fun."
There will be a new EXpressway this year with a variety of concessions, including a new Mexican booth, along with an assortment of foods from pies to deep-fried Mars bars.