It’s said that to be truly happy in your work, do something you love.
It also can be said that Cross-Country Ski Headquarters founders Bob and Lynne Frye, and now new owners, daughter Mariah Frye Colie and her husband Stu Colie, have got that nailed.
Since 1974, Bob and Lynne have introduced thousands to the quiet sport of cross-country skiing at their shop near Roscommon and Higgins Lake, in the gently rolling terrain of Michigan’s mid-Mitten.
Their customers flock here to learn to ski from certified instructors, get outfitted for the sport, and ski the 18 kilometers of groomed trails that the Frye crew has cut through the woods. Their business is nationally and locally recognized by those who fill the parking lot to overflowing on winter weekends, and also by national skiing publications. And, they accrued top honors, including Bob’s induction into the Michigan Ski Hall of Fame, and being the perennial president of the Great Lakes Winter Trails Council. Known as XC Ski HQ for short, it placed second nationwide in a USA Today reader’s poll as the best place to cross-country ski in North America in 2018. And, it was picked by Outside Magazine as one of North America’s top 10 Nordic skiing meccas.
A COOL IDEA
It all began in 1974, thanks to a conversation Bob had with a neighbor. “He co-owned Gene’s All Sports. They’d just come across this new idea,” Frye recalls. That idea, cross-country skiing, was new to Midwesterners, but had a long history in Scandinavia.
“The shop had some wooden cross-country skis made in Norway,” says Bob. He was a downhill skier, and the skis intrigued him. “Well, I thought it was really cool.” So cool that he had to try them, lacing up extra large tennis shoes so the empty toe could lock into clasp bindings used at the time. He didn’t even have boots. Frye decided to turn that cool sport into a business, and in November of 1974 opened in a local snowmobile repair shop. “Lo and behold, that winter the business just kept on growing,” he says even now with a look of amazement.
Lynn’s introduction to cross-country skis was a trek with Bob several miles through the woods near Higgins Lake. That first lesson was, she says, “pretty much put your skis on and let’s go.”
Their business accelerated when Bill Koch became the first American to win a silver medal in a 30-kilometer cross-country race in the 1976 Olympics. After that, cross-country caught fire in the U.S. and the Fryes were in the right place at the right time.
Behind the snowmobile shop, the Fryes groomed trails with an old bedspring and just-as-old Evinrude snowmobile. They bought land and transformed what was actually a log cabin house kit into their business. They launched their store with sport-appropriate clothing and gear, and they educated enthusiasts new to Nordic skiing.
“We had to break a number of perceptions. One was, you’re always going to be cold. If you’ve never skied before that’s your perception. Cold hands, cold fingers, cold everything. But after 15 minutes on the trail, you have to start taking your jacket off.” In fact, Frye says it’s one of the best aerobic sports: Nordic skiers can burn up to 700 calories an hour, giving the entire body a workout.
THE NEXT GENERATION
The Fryes grew the business with the addition of an equipment rental room, pro shop and large day lodge. The expansion made more space for guests, additional merchandise, a kitchen, restrooms and a fieldstone fireplace. The Colies have added spirits, wine and beer to the mix, and there are sure to be more changes coming under their management.
After graduating from Kalamazoo College, Mariah headed to a tech job in California, where she met Stu, who had a background in selling sailboats. “We got a pretty bad case of wanderlust,” she says. They quit their jobs, bought a sailboat and spent the next nine months cruising. When her parents decided after 41 years in the business that it was time to pass the torch, the couple stepped up.
That first winter, Mariah relates, was one of the worst the business had ever gone through. No snow meant no one in the parking lot. “It was pretty stressful. But even after that season, we still thought this was something we wanted to do.
“It gives us so much joy to do this sport and expose people to how fun it is. Some just do it for the workout. A lot like it for the mental part, and the woods and quiet. A lot because the entire family can do it. My favorite part is when they come back in,” from skiing, she continues. “They’re happy and they’ve just done something they never thought they’d enjoy. They’ve started a new life sport. They started it here.”
Bob sums up the long, beautiful ride that he, Lynne, and now Mariah and Stu have been on. “What’s really great is, I can still come to work and see my old customers who are now my friends, and see their kids and grandkids. I really like that.”
At the heart of it all, however, is that day in the mid-1970s when Frye strapped on a pair of oversized tennis shoes and those Kongsberg skis and had an idea.
Check out the live webcam and find trail condition updates and equipment deals at cross-country-ski.com.
XC Ski HQ activities include:
- Free beginner lessons on Saturdays and weeknight kids’ ski programs.
- The “Muffin Race,” the longest-running junior Nordic ski race in the state. Kids are encouraged to wear costumes, and of course, eat a muffin or two.
- Foodie events so popular you need tickets.
- Moonlight skis. During a full moon, put on a headlamp, and enjoy the trails at night.
Photo by Bob Frye
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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