Nordic skiing, a history

Nordic skiing consists of two disciplines, cross-country skiing and biathlon.

Cross-country skiing originated in Scandinavia and is the oldest form of skiing. It was originally a form of transport; skis were required to collect provisions, hunt wild animals and travel between isolated communities. The word 'ski' is Norwegian and comes from the Old Norse word for a split length of wood (skid). The 18th century saw Norwegian army units competing on skis for the first time, before it spread to civilians in the mid-19th century. The first race recorded was in 1842, and by 1901 a specific 'cross-country' race had been added to the Holmenkollen Ski Festival. Cross-country skiing featured in the first winter Olympics in 1924 for men, and in 1952 for women.

The biathlon comprises cross-country skiing with target shooting. The word 'biathlon' comes from the Greek for 'two contests'. It too has its origins in Scandinavian history and has evolved from the practice of hunting on skis using a rifle. The first biathlon-style event is believed to have taken place in the 18th century, with the first modern biathlon coming later in 1912 in Oslo.

Nordic skiing, a Paralympic sport

Cross-country skiing was featured at the first Paralympic Winter Games in 1976, held at Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Since then cross-country skiing has been included in every  Paralympic Winter Games.

Biathlon for athletes with a physical impairment was introduced at the 1988 Innsbruck Paralympic Winter Games in Austria and athletes with a visual impairment were added into the biathlon programme at the 1992 Tignes-Albertville Paralympics.

Nordic skiing at the Paralympic Winter Games

  • 1976 Örnsköldsvik, Sweden
    Cross country - 25 events, 14 countries, 125 athletes (101 men and 24 women) participated.
  • 1980 Geilo, Norway
    Cross country - 27 events, 14 countries, 148 athletes (117 men and 31 women) participated.
  • 1984 Innsbruck, Austria
    Cross country - 35 events, 17 countries, 194 athletes (155 men and 39 women) participated.
  • 1988 Innsbruck, Austria
    Biathlon - 3 events, 8 countries, 36 athletes (all men) participated.
    Cross country - 38 events, 17 countries, 164 athletes (125 men and 39 women) participated.
  • 1992 Tignes-Albertville, France
    Biathlon - 4 events, 12 countries, 45 athletes (all men) participated.
    Cross country - 27 events, 18 countries, 150 athletes (120 men and 30 women) participated.
  • 1994 Lillehammer, Norway
    Biathlon - 10 events, 20 countries, 126 athletes (99 men and 27 women) participated.
    Cross country - 48 events, 22 countries, 176 athletes (135 men and 41 women) participated.
  • 1998 Nagano, Japan
    Biathlon - 12 events, 19 countries, 108 athletes (77 men and 31 women) participated.
    Cross country - 39 events, 22 countries, 213 athletes (150 men and 63 women) participated.
  • 2002 Salt Lake City, USA
    Biathlon - 6 events, 17 countries, 104 athletes (78 men and 26 women) participated.
    Cross country - 32 events, 21 countries, 134 athletes (96 men and 38 women) participated.
  • 2006 Torino, Italy
    Biathlon - 12 events, 20 countries, 90 athletes (58 men and 32 women) participated.
    Cross country - 20 events, 17 countries, 131 athletes (88 men and 43 women) participated.
  • 2010 Vancouver, Canada
    Biathlon - 12 events, 18 countries, 95 athletes (61 men and 34 women) participated.
    Cross country - 20 events, 21 countries, 142 athletes (93 men and 49 women) participated.
  • 2014 Sochi, Russia
    Biathlon - 18 events, 16 countries, 95 athletes (62 men and 33 women) participated.
    Cross country - 20 events, 20 countries, 147 athletes (94 men and 53 women) participated.

British nordic skiing medal winners

Nordic skiing is not one of Britain's most successful events. Our only medallist, and most successful Paralympian, is Peter Young who won bronze at the 1984 Innsbruck Games, Austria, and again at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, Norway (details of events are listed below). Peter, a piano tuner by trade, carried the British flag at the 1998 Nagano Games in Japan. He was later awarded The Pery Medal in 1999 for his outstanding contribution to snowsports. This is awarded by the Council of the Ski Club of Great Britain to an organisation or individual of any nationality who meet their specific criteria, which includes outstanding international achievements as well as contribution to the development and advancement of the sport.

Athletes Terry Ahrens and Peter Young also competed in both nordic skiing disciplines at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Paralympic GB have never had a female athlete in either nordic skiing event.

  • 1984 Innsbruck, Austria
    Peter Young - bronze in cross-country men's short distance 10km (B1)
  • 1994 Lillehammer, Norway
    Peter Young - bronze in cross-country, men's 5km classical technique (B1)

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

How nordic skiing has evolved

In cross-country skiing, athletes had to use the classical technique in all distances until the introduction of the skating technique at the 1984 Innsbruck Paralympic Winter Games, However, the skating technique wasn’t used officially in a medal race until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. The discipline is now split into 2 race types: Classical and Skating (sometimes called 'Free'). The variety of distances athletes could race over has also evolved; the men’s 20km distance was introduced at the 1980 Geilo Games, the 30km at the 1988 Innsbruck Games (though this hasn’t consistently featured since then), and the 1km sprint at the 2010 Vancouver Games. For the women, the 2.5km was introduced at the 1984 Innsbruck Games, the 15km at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and the 1km sprint at the 2010 Vancouver Games. For both men and women, the most recent Games in 2018 saw the introduction of the 7.5km distance (as well as the 12km for women). At the first Paralympic Winter Games in 1976, 15 countries took part. This figure has more than doubled to 31 at the most recent Games in 2018. The number of individual athletes taking part has also increased from 125 to 157.

The biathlon was originally introduced only for athletes with physical impairments; athletes with visual impairments were then permitted to take part from the 1992 Tignes-Albertville Games onwards. At its first appearance in 1988 only 8 countries had representation. This figure has fluctuated over the last 30 years, with the 1994 Lillehammer and 2006 Torino Games having the highest number of countries represented at 20. Initially, only men were permitted to compete in the biathlon; women could enter from the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. The 2006 Torino Games saw the introduction of the 12.5km distance for both men and women as well as the 10km distance for women. Subsequent events also saw the introduction of the 2.4km and 3km pursuit, the 6km (for women), and the 15km (for men).

Rules of nordic skiing

Cross-country skiing

Athletes can compete individually and/or as a team across a range of distances, from 2.5km to 20km. There are two techniques in cross-country skiing (Classical and Skating) and there are events in both categories. Visually impaired athletes compete with a guide, and physically impaired athletes can choose to compete either sitting or standing (using 1 or 2 poles and/or skis).


Biathlon athletes compete in a combined event of cross-country skiing and target shooting. As with cross-country skiing, athletes enter in one of three categories; visually impaired, sitting or standing. The event comprises 3 separate skiing phases (each covering 2.5km in distance), intersected with a shooting phase where athletes fire at five different targets at a distance of 10m. If athletes miss any of their targets, then they incur a time penalty for each. Acoustic signals assist those athletes with visual impairments; the signal intensity indicates when they are on target. Athletes must wear their skis whilst completing the shooting phases.

Governing bodies

Since 2018 GB Snowsport (GBS) has been recognised by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and IPC as the UK National Governing Body.

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

A list of UK ski clubs can also be found online here

For disability ski clubs visit: