Letter to the editor: Sports center’s new mission

To the editor: Life in much of rural Maine in the late 1990’s – and still today – has been typified by industries under stress and the accompanying symptoms of communities under stress. Namely, high rates of under-employment, outmigration, and a host of preventable health issues like obesity (especially childhood obesity), type II diabetes, and substance abuse.

With this as the backdrop, the Maine Winter Sports Center was created in 1999 with a focus on providing targeted support to northern Maine communities. We hoped to create the foundation for a new economic and community model and new layers of opportunities for Maine’s youth.

Funding over our first 15 years came from the Libra Foundation of Portland and in that time, we received $32 million for operations, construction of world-class biathlon and cross country skiing venues, and the purchase and redevelopment of three regional alpine ski areas. Those facilities, and the international and national events hosted by thousands of local volunteers, have brought over $100 million in economic impact to northern and western Maine. They also led to private-sector investments in hotels, restaurants, and retail.

While our original model focused just on skiing and on northern Maine, it quickly became evident that demand for the education and experience we were providing stretched far beyond one sport, one season, and one region of Maine. Within a year we were working across Maine and across all seasons. Within six years we were winning international awards for our year-round outdoor sport education programs and taking participants far beyond the state’s borders.

Our relationship with Libra ended in 2014 with them getting control of the two nordic centers and us retaining all the assets associated with running our programming. We remain proud of the legacy these ski facilities continue to have in their respective communities and for Maine. At the same time, no longer having responsibility for the venues, the MWSC staff and I have been focusing all of our creative energy on finding impactful solutions to the challenges of a society that is increasingly disconnected – on a curriculum of empowerment.

In our 17 years we have connected thousands of kids, adults and communities in a sustainable way with each other, with the outdoors, and with the world around them. We have also come to understand the unique role our outdoor sport education could play in empowering people to redefine the possible and change lives and communities.

We believe the key to finding sustained success in life is having the confidence to face and overcome the inevitable challenges life throws at you – the grit that comes with being empowered – and the outdoors provides the perfect classroom to develop these skills.

We also believe what isn’t used isn’t valued, and what isn’t valued can be lost. Too few people today feel comfortable in the outdoors, and by re-connecting us with our natural environment and all the healing powers that represents, we are also creating generations of stewards of our natural environment.

Our new focus as an organization is completely dedicated to being a global leader in an outdoor sports education based on empowerment. In addition to our own set of comprehensive programs for elementary school-aged kids all the way through adulthood, we provide education, gear, trail design and curriculum for dozens of other organizations that share our commitment to getting people outdoors.

The Maine Winter Sports Center has a track record of success and we hope each of you share in that pride. But an organization that started out focused on winter sport in northern Maine has grown into so much more – it has grown into the Outdoor Sport Institute (OSI).

On July 15th we began operating exclusively as OSI, with a new website,, a new facebook page and a new mission; empowering kids and adults through outdoor sport education to create better lives better communities and a better world. We will still be based in Caribou, with the same world-class staff and the same commitment to making a difference.

You helped create the proud legacy of success for the MWSC and I hope you will continue the journey, now as a part of the OSI family. Together, there is still so much work to do.

Andy Shepard
Outdoor Sport Institute/OSI

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