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Nordic Skiing Explained

The first Nordic skiing race took place in Norway in 1842. Nearly 100 years later, in 1924, the sport found its way into the Olympics for the first time. Now it is featured in multiple events, with both cross-country skiing and ski jumping. But skiing isn’t just for Olympian athletes—it’s a winter activity everyone can enjoy.

Although downhill skiing is the most popular variety of skiing today, skiing started as a means of cross-country travel in snow-laden Norway. This type of skiing is now known as Nordic skiing.

The joy of skiing can be even more meaningful if you have family from Norway. Skiing, particularly Nordic skiing, carries with it the story of the people living in Scandinavia. Knowing more about Nordic skiing can help you understand more about your own history. 

nordic skis in the snow with a red pole

What Is Nordic Skiing?

Nordic skiing, the original version of skiing, includes any form of skiing where the toe is attached to the ski but the heel is not. This type of skiing differs from its cousin, downhill skiing (or alpine skiing), where the entire boot is attached to the ski. 

This distinction is important. If you have ever been downhill skiing, you know that getting anywhere once you’re at the bottom of the hill can be a real pain. Keeping the heel loose allows skiers to travel on flat or uphill ground.

Why Is It Called Nordic Skiing?

Nordic skiing is named for the region where it started—the Nordic region (Norway, Sweden, and Finland). The area is famous for intense and long winters, so getting around in the snow is a necessity.

Thousands of years ago, people in the region started using long, wooden boards to make traveling across the snowy landscapes easier. The word “ski” even comes from the Old Norse word “skid,” meaning a length of wood.

Over time, this practice developed into Nordic skiing as it’s known today. By the 1800s, skiing evolved as a source of recreation and enjoyment.

A well-used trail

What’s the Difference between Cross-Country Skiing and Nordic Skiing?

“Cross-country skiing” and “Nordic skiing” are often used interchangeably, so it can be easy to confuse the two. In reality, cross-country skiing is only one type of Nordic skiing. It’s the most popular, but there are other varieties as well.

The Different Types of Nordic Skiing

There are three main varieties of Nordic skiing: cross-country skiing, telemark skiing, and alpine touring.

Classic cross-country skiing uses narrow, lightweight skis and poles on designated “tracks” in the snow. It’s a great choice for beginners because it’s fairly easy to learn and the amount of effort required depends on how fast you go. 

Telemark skiing, named after the Telemark region in Norway, is more of an “off-road” variety of skiing that uses thicker and heavier skis. The increased stability of the larger skis combined with the loose heel of Nordic skiing allows skiers to make their way up steep hills as well as glide downhill. 

Alpine touring takes is a step closer to downhill skiing. Alpine skis are also thicker and sturdier, but they let skiers either bind their entire foot or keep their heels loose. As a result, the skis are quite versatile, ideal for exploration.

Competitive nordic skiiers on a track

Nordic Skiing in the Olympics

As the source of the sport and the prime location to practice, the Nordic countries have a reputation for excellence in Olympic Nordic skiing events. Norway in particular has a history of dominating at Olympic skiing. In all, Norway has won 368 Winter Olympic medals, outpacing any other team by far. In fact, Norway has the most Winter Olympic medals per capita—a mark of excellence and point of pride for its citizens.

Norway even set a record for the most medals won in a single Winter Olympics, with 39 medals in 2018. Marit Bjørgen, a cross-country skier, won five medals by herself. 

nordic skis lined up on a wall

Your Stories

Nordic skiing is a fun winter activity for people of all skill levels—but for those with Nordic ancestry, it’s also a way to appreciate family heritage. If you’ve been skiing, share your experiences with friends and family on FamilySearch Memories. Sharing your tips for getting started, personal experiences, or family memories will help you and your family cherish those experiences for years to come.

Your Norwegian Heritage

the northern lights in Norway

Source: Family Search

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