Cross Country Skiing

what is cross country skiing

Cross country skiing is an endurance sport based on traversing snowy trails and paths on specially designed skis. Cross country ski trails often go through forests and up and down small hills, but large downhill segments are rare. This is the main difference between cross country and alpine skiing; in alpine skiing, the skiers go downhill the entire time. The history of cross country skiing goes back many centuries, and it is a popular winter sport around the world. Read on to learn all about cross country skiing.

  • Description: A sport in which an athlete traverses snow-covered trails using skis and poles
  • Founded By: Schack Carl Rantzau (Norwegian military)
  • Founded Date: 1767
  • Governing Bodies: International Ski Federation (FIS), U.S. Ski & Snowboard
  • Regions: Scandinavia, Europe, Asia, North America
  • Categories: Winter Sports, Endurance Sports, Snow Sports


The history of cross country skiing goes back to prehistoric times. Ancient skis dating to about 6000 BC have been unearthed In Northern Russia and Norway. From many thousands of years ago until very recently, skiing was a primary mode of winter transport in places like Scandinavia, Russia, and northern China, where heavy snow would impede travel by other means.

Additionally, skiing was used as a tactic of warfare from at least 1200 AD. It was through this military application that cross country skiing became a competitive sport. In 1767, Danish -Norwegian military commander Schack Carl Rantzau devised a series of four ski competitions to use as a training and fitness exercise. Rantzau’s program closely resembles the modern disciplines of cross country skiing and is regarded as the first official ski competition.

From then on, cross country ski races spread from the military to the general public. By the mid-1800s, towns all around Scandinavia were hosting ski races. The sport spread to America with immigrants and took hold there too. As the sport gained popularity in Europe and elsewhere, governing bodies were established, such as the International Ski Federation (FIS). Cross country was included in the first Winter Olympics in 1924, and the first FIS World Championship was held in 1931. Since then, the biggest change was the introduction of skate-skiing in the 1980s by Bill Koch, which allowed faster speeds in some instances.

Competitions and Rules

In modern competitions, there are two major categories: classic and freestyle. The classic style, developed in Norway in the 18th century, requires the skier to move their skis directly backward and forward without pushing to the side. The freestyle variation, developed in the 1980s, uses a motion similar to ice skating, where the skier pushes off to the side using the edge of their skis. Before this development, there was only one style of cross country skiing.

The most important competition in the sport is the Winter Olympics, which takes place every four years. In addition, the FIS World Championship is held every year. At these events, there are a variety of distance races. Men compete in the 15 km classic and 50 km freestyle, while women compete in the 10 km classic and 30 km freestyle. Also, there are relay events, where skiers compete in teams of four, as well as sprints, where skiers do short laps around a track.

Technique and Equipment

The classic technique of cross country skiing involves keeping the skis straight ahead and pushing downward through the feet while assisting with the poles. This technique was the only one used from when competitions began until the 1980s. It was in that decade that an American, Bill Koch, began using what is known as the “skate-ski” movement in World Championship competition.

This new method allowed the skier to go faster by digging the inside edge of the ski into the snow and pushing off laterally, like an ice skater. While there was initially lots of resistance from other competitors, the skiing community soon realized the advantages of the new style and adopted it for themselves. Shortly after, the Olympics and World Championships adopted a new structure where separate races would be held for each skiing style.


How does cross country skiing work?

Cross country skiing is a sport where skiers race along snow-covered trails and paths. There are two main styles, classic and freestyle. There are also many different distances, like 10, 15, 30, and 50-kilometer races. There are also many variations of the races, like relay races for teams of four, as well as sprints around a looped track. Cross country skiing is most popular in Scandinavia, but it is also popular in the United States, Russia, and Europe.

Who created cross country skiing?

Cross country skiing was a mode of transport for thousands of years before it ever became a sport. It was also used by Scandinavian armies as a method of warfare, and the first official races and competitions were held as training exercises for the Norwegian military in 1767. Danish-Norwegian military commander Schack Carl Rantzau is credited with developing these first competitions. Since that time, it has become an incredibly popular sport using rules very similar to those of Rantzau.

Is cross country skiing an Olympic sport?

Cross country skiing is a Winter Olympic sport. In fact, it was one of the events included in the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. It is considered one of the Games’ marquee events since it has been around since their inception. Men’s and women’s segments compete, and there are also relay races and biathlon, which combines cross country skiing with target shooting, in a historical nod to the origins of the sport.