The MWSC Story
Maine Winter Sports CenterMaking a difference—one community at a time
The Maine Winter Sports Center story
Maine has a rich history of skiing dating back to 1870, when 21 families were recruited from Stockholm, Sweden to help settle northern Maine. The climate and topography were very similar and Governor Joshua Chamberlain thought the hard working Swedish temperament was just what was called for to settle the vast virgin forests of Aroostook County.
They cut roads, built villages and made new lives for themselves. They also brought skiing with them to their new home as an inseparable part of their lifestyle. During the winter they skied for transportation and hunting - and also for recreation. Soon after their arrival, winter carnivals began to develop with sprinting races, jumping competitions and eventually, marathon races that covered 180 miles in four days. These were truly hearty people who loved the winter.
Skiing spread throughout the state and into the mountains of western Maine to towns like Rumford, Livermore Falls and Farmington. Olympians like Chummy Broomhall, Jim Miller, Jack Lufkin, Leslie Bancroft, Dan Simoneau, Marcus Nash, Julie Parisien, Kirsten Clark and Seth Westcott to name a few, are the products of that heritage.
In the past 30 years the economic foundations of these communities have come under intense pressure. Shoe production and woolen mills have virtually disappeared from western Maine towns and the paper mills have fallen on hard times as well. The potato and lumbering industries of northern Maine have also suffered. The result has been high unemployment rates, an exodus of the young population and a degradation of the quality of life in Maine's rural communities.
In these difficult economic times the communities have had little money to invest in the infrastructure of their communities. Spending on skiing infrastructure has been hit especially hard, creating a vicious cycle of degraded skiing experience and diminished revenues at the community areas. The result is an alarming rate of ski area closures over the last 20 years and a loss of resources critical to sustaining a skiing culture in Maine.
Over that same period, Mainers—in fact, people all across the US—have become less active in the outdoors, choosing instead to spend their leisure time watching TV, surfing the net and pursuing other sedentary activities. Skiing has been replaced by snowmobiling as the dominant outdoor winter pastime in Maine. With Maine at the top nationally in the incidence of childhood smoking, obesity, type II diabetes and asthma, our concern is not only for the future of skiing in Maine, but the health of our children as well. In fact, if the health trends in our state are not addressed, this looming health crisis will bring our economy to its knees within this generation. Increased health care costs, lower productivity, higher mortality rates and higher insurance costs will overwhelm an already stressed taxpayer base beyond its limits.
With this as the backdrop, a year was taken to develop a comprehensive and integrated community-based economic and cultural development model for the rural communities of Maine. We did a thorough review of programs from around the world and found some common threads running through the programs that had success and missing where there was failure.
This list was distilled into 5 Critical Success Factors that have framed the focus of our efforts at the Maine Winter Sports Center.
1. Inspired leadership
Sustained success has always required effective leadership, in this case, a pied piper, capable of inspiring passion and skilled in creating a common vision within a community. Someone who doesn't get mired in all the reasons things won't work, but who finds a way to make things work—a master of the possible.
2. Strong Community Support
The community will be invested in the success of something it helps build. A sense of ownership is critical to the volunteer support upon which we depend for programs and events, as well as labor to reduce the costs of infrastructure development.
3. World Class Facilities and Programs
Because we are asking people to travel great distances—in some cases around the world—to events held in our facilities, it is critical they be world class.
4. Olympic Aspirations
Modern Olympic founder Baron de Coubertin's assertion in 1900 that, "it is not the triumph but the struggle," is even more relevant to people today. In fact, we believe the attributes critical to success as an Olympic athlete - commitment, discipline and a willingness to hold yourself accountable for your efforts and their results, are also a solid foundation for success in life.
5. Adequate and Continued Funding.
The record is clear, when programs are funded, they survive - when the funding ended so did the programs. We are looking to have a permanent impact on the quality of the lives of people in Maine and it will take a sustained effort to do so.
With the presentation of our findings to the Libra Foundation of Portland, Maine we received our first grant and were incorporated in April of 1999 with a mission to reawaken the rich outdoor tradition of our past and re-establish skiing as the dominant winter lifestyle in Maine. With sustained support from the Libra Foundation we continue to aggressively pursue our mission and make a difference in Maine.
MWSC - THE NORDIC PLAN: Community Programs
Our original model included working with local volunteers to build cross-country ski trails at all the schools in Aroostook County where it all began over 130 years ago. Now through the generous support of thousands of volunteers and the continued support from the Libra Foundation, and corporate partners like UNUM, we have taken the program statewide.
We are providing a curriculum to help schools integrate skiing into their programs, providing coaches education, skis to anyone who needs them and trail grooming equipment.
We get thousands of kids on skis each winter in nearly 100 Maine communities, and over the last several years, we have transitioned the community ski clubs to year-round outing clubs.
Not only are we establishing a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle for a new generation, we are also helping children develop a better self-image, which is translating into better results in school and better life choices among many other tangible benefits.
MWSC - THE NORDIC PLAN: Competitive Programs
For those interested in taking their skiing to the next level, the Maine Winter Sports Center is also offering world class coaching and training facilities in both Cross Country and Biathlon. These programs provide the young athletes the foundation they will need to be Olympians should they choose to pursue that goal. For all involved, the programs stress commitment, discipline and personal responsibility, a solid foundation for success in life.
Maine Winter Sports Center alumna comprised 7 of the 10 members of the 2006 US Olympic biathlon team and 6 of the 9 members of the 2010 US biathlon team. In addition, MWSC athletes have gone on to race on national teams, at World Championships and win medals at national & world championship events.
MWSC - THE NORDIC PLAN: Venues
The Maine Winter Sports Center has built two world-class cross country and Biathlon facilities in Aroostook County. Each facility has acquired both FIS and IBU licenses.
The 10th Mountain Center in Fort Kent and the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle have already hosted a number of Junior National, Senior National and North American Biathlon and Cross Country Championships. The quality of these events, the first of which was held on 5 days notice, have been of such a consistently high standard that the MWSC was awarded the first World Cup Biathlon competition ever held in New England in 2004. Over 50 million people throughout the world saw the event live on television and close to 20,000 more attended the event, making it Maine's most watched sporting event ever. The world was impressed with what they saw in Maine and awarded Fort Kent & Presque Isle World Cup events in February of 2011.
The 10th Mountain Center includes a state of the art 6,000 square foot day lodge with a fully equipped kitchen, sauna, locker rooms and two dorm rooms for our elite athletes-in-residence. There is even a 27-room wax building, 25 Kilometers of trails, and a lighted roller ski loop. The most remarkable feature of the lodge however, is probably the 360-degree view it affords of race action.
The Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle is our second venue, coming on line in the spring of 2002. The lodge is also a state of the art facility and like the 10th Mountain Center, is considered to be among the best Nordic facilities in the World. Although both the 10th Mountain and Nordic Heritage Centers offer the same amenities, the architecture of each reflects the heritage of the communities in which they are located.
The 10th Mountain Lodge design is based on the blockhouse that gives the town its name, while the Nordic Heritage Center architecture reflects the traditional style of the Swedish community that played such an important role in the development of skiing in the US.
Pineland Farms in New Gloucester came on line as a Nordic center in the winter of 2003/2004. With 30 kilometers of spectacular trails located on 4,000 acres of beautiful rolling farmland, Pineland Farms is the perfect spot to base our programming for southern Maine. Located within an hour's drive of 600,000 people, it has quickly become Maine's most visited cross-country ski center.
We also added historic Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford, Maine to our family in the summer of 2003. The site of world, national and regional championships, dating back to 1950, and home to more US Winter Olympians than any other town in Maine, Black Mountain of Maine is the perfect choice for running our programming in western Maine.
MWSC - THE NORDIC PLAN: Events
We look to leverage the world-class venues, the passionate support of the community's volunteers and the unrivaled snow conditions in Aroostook County to draw national and international competitions to northern Maine. These events bring media coverage that spread the word about all the area had to offer, they bring direct spending into the area from the competitors, spectators (and for the larger events, TV revenues as well), and they create awareness and interest as destinations for recreational skiers.
As you can see from the list of events already held at these venues, Aroostook County has risen to the occasion.
MWSC - ALPINE PLAN: Community Ski Areas
In addition to our Nordic interests, we also own two community-based alpine ski areas, Big Rock Ski Area in Mars Hill and Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford, and are affiliated with a third, Quoggy Jo in Presque Isle. As with the Nordic centers, our goal is to create a new economic model for these communities, create healthier lifestyles for the youth and develop a foundation for a quality of life that will inspire people to build their futures in these communities.
The community based ski areas formed the backbone of the development of skiing in the US, and sustained that growth from the early 40's through the late 1970's and early 80's.
The emergence of the corporate ski experience, though exciting in its possibilities often manifests itself in prices that the average Maine family can no longer afford. At the same time, the resorts have targeted the smaller, lower priced, but undercapitalized community areas as competitors, driving most of them out of business and eliminating the very source of new skiers upon which they depend for their survival.
We look to reassert the viability of the local ski area as a community based, family oriented and affordable model - skiing the way it used to be. The result will be not only an economic and cultural reinvigoration for a number of rural communities, but it will also replace a missing lifeline for the entire Alpine industry.
The Maine Winter Sports Center will provide capital for improvements at the areas without the resources to do so for themselves. Matched by the efforts of volunteers in the communities, our investments will look to improve the quality of the skiing experience at the area in a way that creates the least possible financial operating burden. We will support our investments in these non-profit community run ski areas by helping to create programs that get the local people of these communities on skis - school programs, corporate wellness programs and family programs to name a few.
In all, the Maine Winter Sports Center has revived or created 5 ski areas in Maine, serving a local population of over 700,000 people. These facilities are also drawing people from around the world supporting the economies of these rural communities. These ski areas are a source of tremendous pride for the communities. This is a pride worth protecting - a way of life worth preserving.