Did you know? Fourteen facts on cross-country skiing

By Traci Hendrix | April 04, 2013, 12 p.m. (ET)
Dan Cnossen
Dan Cnossen, an active duty lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, is the top U.S. contender for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in cross-country skiing. 

The Paralympic Winter Games is March 7-16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. With 114 medals up for grabs in 38 Nordic skiing events, up to 200 athletes will compete in biathlon and cross-country skiing, which are separate sports at the Games. Get situated for Sochi with these 14 facts on cross-country skiing:


Cross-country skiing appeared at the 1976 Paralympic Winter Games in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Men and women used the classical technique in all cross-country distances until a skating technique was introduced by athletes at the Innsbruck 1984 Paralympic Winter Games. Since then, cross-country skiing events have been split into two separate races: classical and free technique. The new technique, however, was not officially used in a medal race until 1992 in Albertville, France.


Made from fiberglass, classical skis are usually 25-30 centimeters taller than the height of a skier. Free technique skis are about 10-15 cm shorter to allow skiers greater maneuverability. Sit skiers are equipped with a special-made chair with specific skis attached.


The three categories of cross-country skiing are standing, sit ski and visually impaired, with athletes categorized according to their ability. Each category has specifications that are tailored to the physical or visual impairment of the athletes. In the relay event, teams are made up of skiers from different categories but with the total percentage for each team being equal, which means that no time calculation is required. The first team across the finish line wins.

A level playing field

Cross-country skiing uses a percentage system to help neutralize the differences in athlete ability. The percentage-system is an adjusted time formula, which is used to determine overall place of each competitor relative to all other racers. This formula assigns a percentage to each competitor based on each individual's particular race class. The athlete’s actual time is multiplied by this percentage to determine an adjusted finishing time. Each class has different percentage for the different techniques, classic and free technique.

Going the distance

Paralympic cross-country skiers compete in the sprint event, men’s and women’s individual events over short, middle and long distances ranging from 1k to 50k and in the relay event. Each race has an interval start with skiers starting every 30 seconds.

From start to finish

The sprint competitions are held on a course of 800-1200 meters. The sprint competition starts with a qualification round. The eight fastest competitors from each category will advance to the second round of the competition — the semi-finals. After the semi-finals, the four best skiers advance to the finals.

Crossing first

The first gold medals won for cross-country skiing was claimed by Finish skiers at the 1976 Paralympic Games. Finland won eight gold medals in that Games and 22 overall for cross-country skiing. U.S. Paralympians medaled in cross-country for the first time at the 1984 Games when the visually impaired team claimed the silver medal in the 4x5 relay.

The distance

Cross-country skiing events can range from a 1 kilometer sprint to a 20k long course. The sitting races can range from a short sprint to a 15k course.

Around the world

Cross-country skiing is practiced in 24 countries. At the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, 23 countries had athletes in the cross-country competitions.


Cross-country skiing is governed by the IPC with coordination by the IPC Nordic Skiing Technical Committee following modified rules of the International Ski Federation.

Mountain Cluster country

At the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, cross-country skiing will be contested in the same venue where the biathlon events are held. “Laura”, a venue in the Mountain Cluster of Sochi, Russia, will have seats for over 7,500 spectators.

Count on Cnossen

Dan Cnossen, who competed in multiple sports at the 2011 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte for Navy/Coast Guard, hopes to make his Paralympic Games debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in biathlon and cross-country skiing. The active duty lieutenant in the U.S. Navy is the top U.S. contender in cross-country heading into Sochi. At the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis., he won four of the 13 medals claimed by Team USA, with two each in biathlon and cross-country skiing.

An athlete in the lead

In June 2011, the United States Olympic Committee hired John Farra as the high performance director for the newly created U.S. Paralympics Nordic skiing program. Farra was previously a member of the U.S. Ski Team, competing at the world championship and Olympic levels, and served as the Nordic program director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, from 2008-11. During his tenure at USSA the U.S. Ski Teams in cross country, ski jumping and Nordic combined won six world championship and four Olympic medals.


The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation is the official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site for cross-country skiing, the United States Olympic Committee announced on Nov. 6. The Wood River Ability Program, a Paralympic Sport Club, is the Paralympic sport provider for the official training site.