Spring skiing, slow-cooked ribs slathered in secret sauce, and live blues on the deck are all part of Ribs and Blues, a Grayling-area tradition at the XC Ski HQ in Roscommon.
Called “a well-celebrated tradition” by the Grayling Visitor’s Bureau, Ribs and Blues is the perfect complement to the spring ski season.
The event began eight years ago when sunny weather at the XC Ski HQ prompted an impromptu outdoor BBQ and concert.
“We have some very talented blues artists here in Higgins Lake, and the best of all of them back then was a guy named Russ McCullough, or ‘Mania,’” said Mariah Frye, part owner of the 40-year-old XC Ski HQ in Roscommon. “Russ formed the West Side Blues Band about eight years ago, and we just had to have them come play on the sundeck one sunny weekend towards the end of the ski season, when spring skiing is at its best. We thought, what better to go with some real live blues than some ribs? And the tradition was started.”
Since then, Russ “passed away into Blues Heaven,” Frye said. Now his brother Dan and another musician, Don Mick, carry the torch.
“They’re a really talented duo,” Frye said, “and with the music and the food and the atmosphere, everyone gets really into it.”
XC Ski HQ, which has about nine miles of groomed trails, a full retail store, ski and snowshoe rentals, a day lodge, café, and sundeck, is a place where the owners and employees “live and breathe cross-country,” Frye said.
“We’re unique in that we’re one of the only ‘XC-only’ shops in the Midwest,” she said.
Frye said that her store is “passionate” about making cross-country skiing a sport that is accessible to everyone, regardless of ability or budget.
“Michigan is such a beautiful state in the wintertime, and being able to get outdoors and explore the wilderness is something we think everyone should be able to do,” she said. “Our facilities … offer a fun, affordable way to get outside, exercise, meet friends, and enjoy winter.”
And it’s also a great sport to burn the calories from a big plate of ribs and sides.
THE FAMOUS RIBS
For those who don’t know, the XC Ski ribs are something truly unique, Frye said.
“We start cooking them on very low heat in the oven the day before the event, and our grill master, German Dave, finishes them by grilling them on the sun deck barbeque pit with a special sauce, which is highly addictive and spicy,” she said. “I’d get in big trouble for sharing our secret ingredients with you, but I can tell you that Frank’s Red Hot is part of it.”
For $10, a hefty slab of the “famous” ribs is served up, along with cole slaw and scalloped potatoes, creating a complete winter feast.
And any calories not burned off earlier by skiing can be danced away courtesy of the West Side Blues Band, who will perform outdoors if it’s warm enough, or in center’s Stone Turtle Day Lodge if it’s not. The whole combo is a great way to celebrate one of the last cross-country ski events of the season.
“This event is unique because it’s so fun and it’s the time of year when you get those rare days of warm weather skiing where the snow is still fast and in great shape,” she said. “It’s the perfect combination ... I mean skiing, ribs, live blues music, friends and sunshine? Does it get any better?”
Ribs and Blues will take place at XC HQ on Sun., March 2 beginning at 2pm. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children eight and under. Reservations will get first seating. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve, or call (800) 832-2663 for more info.