A Brief History Of Cross Country Skiing

The history and origin of cross country skiing date back 5000 years ago, when its origins were discovered in Scandinavia. The sport is a derivative of skiing, where participants glide on the snow’s surface. Country cross skiing was solely a recreational activity until it was made into a sporting event in Canada and Montréal.

In general, cross country skiing is considered the oldest type of skiing. It was developed officially into a sport no later than the 19th century. However, records revealed that as early as the 18th century, this type of skiing was considered a sport in Norwegian army units. The first race recorded was in 1842 and the first ski festival was in 1892.


Over the years, cross country skiing has been developed into a sport and is now a part of the Olympic Games. Men started competing in 1952 at the Oslo Games. Read on and explore the rich history of cross country skiing.

History of Cross Country Skiing

What Is Cross Country Skiing?

Cross country skiing is a form of skiing that relies mostly on a participant’s locomotion to glide and move across snow-covered terrain. What makes the sport challenging is the steepness of terrains. The skiers need to travel across a variety of terrains, which means they don’t simply glide through the snow but also need to move uphill.


In the Winter Olympics, participants compete in the 10km to 50km free sprint. There is also a sporting event for double, combined, and team sprints. For the women’s cross country skiing event, the starting free sprint distance is 5km to 30km. The aim is to finish the race faster compared to other participants. Hence, the need for speed and precise movements.

The sport is usually set in a well-worn track in the wilderness, which adds to the excitement as skiers commune with nature. Some of the venues for this sport include St. Moriz Hills, Lake Placid, Makomanai in Sapporo, Whistler Olympic Park in Vancouver, and Squaw Valley.

Earliest Form

Cross country skiing emerged in various regions at almost the same time. The type with a horizontal toe-piece binding appeared in the 19th century, as well as the modern ski bindings for the Fennoscandian model. In East Siberia, participants use a vertical four-hole binding to move. Sometimes, this binding is covered with fur for control in movement.


Before cross country skiing became a sport, it was considered a recreational activity and often called ski touring. It served as a means of transportation for the army, especially those stationed within hilly terrains. The skis before were longer, narrower, and lighter than those used in mountainous, Alpine-type terrain.

In 1967, several skiers celebrated the Centennial year by participating in a 160-km cross country skiing from Montréal to Ottawa. The three-day expedition evolved into the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM), which is dubbed the longest ski event in North America. The CSM became a tradition annually, gathering 2,000 skiers from Canada, the US, and 10 foreign countries.

For the techniques, the classic way lets a skier travel in parallel movements by kicking backward to make a gliding motion in the snow bed. Today, techniques vary and are different. Skiers use a freestyle technique that resembles ice-skating. This modern technique allows skiers to control his or her speed and movements.

Norwegian Origins

Cross country skiing has a special place in Norwegian culture because it is considered a pastime during winter. The sport was also revolutionized by a Norwegian man Thorleif Haug, the one who invented screw-on steel toe-plates to eliminate the need for the carve slots. This invention made skis much stronger and allowed for the adoption of shorter and narrower skis, which remained the standard for all forms of skiing.

It is also in Norway where the first ski festival happened in 1892. Army units raced in snow beds and winners received prizes. In 1901, a separate cross country race was added to the ski festival.



Cross country skiing had a rich history and is considered an integral part of Scandanavian cultures. For many, this isn’t only a sport but an event that brings people together during the festival and the Olympics.