Updated Apr. 21, 2008

An Introduction to XC Skiing

NENSA Introduction for Media & Partners


History of Skiing in the US

Annual Event Highlights


A dynamic and compelling winter sport of speed, strength, grace, mass starts and one-on-one duels with racers passing so close to you, you could reach out and wipe the snot off their chins, as they push their bodies to the limit. If you haven’t seen a cross-country ski race recently, be prepared to be blown away. Cross-country skiing is changing and you need to know about it.

Today’s Nordic race sites are spectator-friendly with open stadiums and warm lodges. The racers start individually, in waves, in a mass start, or four-at-a-time in the sprint heats. They come through the stadium on multiple laps in the longer races, and stay in sight of the stadium in the three minute-long sprint events. The racing is fast, in-your-face, and exciting enough to keep the spectators as warm as the racers. Announcers provide commentary on the racers and their results. New England’s traditional winter sport, with home-grown athletes pursuing Olympic dreams, now has exciting racing at sites easy to reach, with terrific photo opportunities and easy access to interviews with coaches, race organizers and athletes. What more could a journalist ask for?

NENSA members, parents, coaches, and supporters across New England are requesting published information about the upcoming winter season's events, so NENSA makes it easy for you to get the story your readers want, 24/7. From the warmth of your office you can refer to NENSA.net for the dates of events (see Schedule of Events. View by date, name, site), the names of skiers (see Athlete History. View by name, town, club) who live in your area.

Of course, if you can’t get outside, you can go to the NENSA website for pre and post event press releases and photos of the racers and events your readers want to see in the headlines. Just go to www.NENSA.net for everything you need to understand and cover cross-country skiing in New England.

At your request, NENSA will send you press releases, race results and text summaries highlighting skiers from your area, as well as digital photos taken at the event. If you are not on our list to receive press releases, please contact NENSA Executive Director Zach Stegeman, Zach@NENSA.net or 207-688-6503.

NENSA Advertising Rate Card

Other Website Resource Links

International Ski Federation (FIS) www.fis-ski.com
United States Ski Association (USSA) www.ussa.org
United States Ski Team (USST) www.usskiteam.com
FasterSkier.com www.fasterskier.com
New England Ski Museum www.skimuseum.org
U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and Museum www.skihall.com
Cross Country Ski Areas Association www.xcski.org


The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) is the Community Olympic Development Program for cross-country skiing in New England. NENSA sanctions dozens of competitive events clinics for skiers and coaches year round at venues across New England. NENSA supports grassroots development in the sport, and has a rapidly growing youth segment with a robust family-centered calendar highlighted  by an annual festival. NENSA has been recognized as a Paralymic Sport Club for the work being done in the field of adaptive nordic skiing. NENSA has over 3,400 individual members of all ages and provides a year round calendar of competitive and recreational events and educational programs. These programs and events are open to the public. More about NENSA


Cross-country skiing is a lifetime activity firmly rooted in New England tradition. Cross-country ski racing, as it can be seen in the TD Banknorth Eastern Cup, and TD Banknorth NENSA Championship events, is a fast, explosive, and visually dynamic sport.

New England-born cross-country skiers are presently competing with the best cross-country skiers in the world. The 2008 U.S. Ski Team included several New Englanders: Liz Stephen, Morgan Smyth, Kris Freeman,  Andrew Newell.

Former Olympians Charles Kellogg (`68), Bob Gray (`68, `72), Leslie (Bancroft) Krichko (`80, `88), and Dorcas (DenHartog) Wonsavage (`88, `92, `94) compete regularly as Masters in NENSA Eastern Cup races. Continuing to support skiing in New England are also former Olympians Sue Long (`84), Patty Ross-Tran (`84), Tim Caldwell (`72), Marty Hall (coach`76), John Morton (`76), Dennis Donahue (biathlon `76), Tom Upham (`68, coach `76), Jon Lufkin (`68), Mike Gallagher (`64, `68, 72, `coach `84 ) Dick Taylor (`64), Tom Jacobs (`52), Chummy Broomhall (`48, 52), and John Caldwell (coach`72 and `68, `52).

A History of Cross-Country Skiing in the United States

Cross-country is the original skisport. It is called nordic because it came from the nordic countries of northern Europe, whereas alpine skiing was developed in the Alps.

Until 25 years ago, there was only one technique, the diagonal stride. In 1982 American Bill Koch popularized the skating or freestyle technique, which had been used in Europe by the long-distance skiers. It began as one ski in the tracks and the other pushing off to the side. Eventually, the technique evolved to the point where both skis stay out the track, the skis are used much like ice skates, and no kick wax is used. Skating was fought on the World Cup tour by opponents who claimed it wasn't "traditional". Koch and U.S. Coach Mike Gallagher responded by asking, "How traditional are fiberglass skis and metal poles?" In the mid-80s skating was approved as the World Cup divided into "classical" technique (diagonal stride) which is often abbreviated "CL", and "free style" (then two words, now just one), now often called skating or abbreviated "FS". In the Olympics and World Championships the 50-50 split in racing goes down event to two legs of classical style and two legs of skating in the "mixed technique" relays.

Cross-country racing is a rugged mix of speed and endurance. Races are held at a variety of distances. On the World Cup tour, women race 5km, 10km, 15km and 30km races. The men race 10km, 15km, 30km and 50km races. New to the tour, and to the Olympics, are the sprint races, of 1km or less. The race-avid recreational skier might ski in one of the American Ski Chase (which includes the American Birkebeiner race in Minnesota) or the New England Marathon Series races, that feature distances of 25 to 55kms.

In the mid `90s the Pursuit race was adopted (see Glossary). In Europe it is also known as the "hunter start" because the first day/first race winner is hunted down by the rest of the pack in the second race.

While the alpine world Cup tour recognizes champions in each event, as well as an overal champion, cross country skips the idea of classical and freestyle points and recognizes only overall men and women's champions. What the average specatator might not realize, is that it requires more stamina to win the overall World Cup, because the racer must race well all winter, in all techniques and distances, than to win an Olympic or World Championship medal.

Ideally, races should be held on courses which are `homologated', which is to say they are 1/3 uphill, 1/3 undulating, and 1/3 downhill. The International Ski Federation (FIS) has set maximum standards for course elevation and for accumulated vertical climb.


The NENSA Elite and Development Teams are named to honor the significant acomplishments of these ski racers, as well as to support them in their goals in the sport. These skiers are highly motivated, high-performing athletes, and deserve recognition and support in their pursuit of excellence.

The NENSA Elite Team members are part of a program to support and facilitate the appropriate development of topo athletes towards the goal of international excellence. It seeks to provide incentives for athletes to seek high levels of competitin and to encourage athetes to plan for long-term development. These athletes were nominated for their excellent results at U.S. Nationals, Junior Nationals, and/or World Junior trials. Qualification criteria. It is worth noting that all members of the Senior Elite Team had World Cup racing experience this past season. Visit the Racer Points History page for details on their past NENSA races.


NENSA provides educational, recreational and competitive events year round. A complete list can be found under the Schedule tab of the NENSA website.

For updated information on NENSA events, please refer to the website's Schedule of Events. Visit the archived Press Releases for a sampling of last year's events. A few key events every season include:

Eastern Cup Series

The Eastern Cup Series offers high-level regional racing across New England, hosted by sites and clubs known for putting on quality events. Grouped into four weekends of racing, the events are also scored to the United States National Ranking List.

New England Women’s XC Ski Day

New England Bill Koch Youth Ski League Festival

NENSA Marathon Series

The Marathon Series is comprised of five cross country skiing events across New England with distances ranging from 25k to 50k. Skiers of all skill levels are invited to participate; these events are fun for the elite racer as well as the recreational touring skier. Come and enjoy some of the finest skiing in New England! 

NENSA Zak Cup Series

What happens when you put together the most fun, best-run races in New England? The TD Bank Zak Cup Series! These events have a reputation for being about skiing with friends and family. Rally your Club together because everyone counts in this participation-based “competition”. Clubs can earn an additional point for every member who participates in one of the TD Bank New England Marathon Series, too. Individual points are also earned and scored toward the age group Zak Cup titles.

NENSA Championship Events

End-of-season culminating events for all ages, the NENSA Championship events include:

New England U16 Championships
The NENSA U16 Championships acts as a bridge between the Bill Koch League and the High School and Junior Olympic programs. Twenty girls and 20 boys, ages 14 and 15, from Maine, NH, VT, MA, CT and NY earn a trip to the New England J2 Championships through their state qualifying criteria. This exciting weekend features four races in three days, with teams competing state against state. Last year, Team Maine won by a hair over Vermont, while NH and MA finished 3rd and 4th in a close race for the points.

Eastern High School Championships
The Eastern High School Championships is the culminating event in the East for public and private school skiers and the New England Junior Olympic Team members. Each state qualifies 20 young men and 20 young women for the 3-day, 4-race championship series that pits state against state. Skiers must qualify for their state team under their state criteria. State EHSC Leaders will be listed on the NENSA website as they are announced.


Glossary of Ski Terms

Glossary of Ski Terms

Ski Techniques

Classic (abbreviated C or CL) The traditional cross-country ski technique that people have practiced for centuries. Like walking or running on snow. Also called "diagonal", “traditional”, or "kick and glide." Classic skis are long and with a single camber, which allows the sticky kick wax under the ski binding to remain off the snow except when the skier kicks down for traction. In race situations, identifying the right wax for the snow and weather conditions is extremely important. Having "bad wax" could mean that the best skier has a horrible race and is bested by a better, or luckier, waxer.
In a Classic event, racers must ski the entire race using only the traditional, classic ski technique. Using the skating technique anywhere except when rounding corners or making lane changes, leads to disqualification.

Freestyle: (abbreviated F or FS) Racers are free to choose whatever technique, or combination of techniques, they prefer. Skating is the most common choice, since it is faster than classical. Also the newer ski technique, ski skating is similar to speed skating on snow. Skating skis are on average 10cm shorter than diagonal skis, and the skating poles are 10cm longer than classic poles. Skating skis are waxed only for glide, not for kick. Glide wax is important in skating races, but usually not as critical as kick wax can be in a classical race.
Race Start Formats

Individual Start: Racers start one at a time at fixed time intervals. Usually 15-, 30-, or 60 seconds apart. Individual starts are usually ‘seeded’. The participants are grouped into an A (fastest, best points from previous races), B (middle of the points list) and C (lowest points, less experienced, unseeded) seed. Depending on the course conditions, the A seed gets the best advantaged placing. In a World Cup, or more homogenous group of skiers, the seed starts will be C, B, A. In a more mixed group of skiers, a seed start might be B, A, C.

Mass Start: All racers start together in one large pack.

Wave Start: Small groups of racers (usually of similar speed/seed/ranking), 5-10 at a time, start together at fixed time intervals.

Race Formats
The Sprint: The sprint is the most exciting race development in nordic skiing in recent years. The course is 0.7 to 1.2kilometers long, often looping in and around the stadium, in full view of the spectators. Skiers race an individual start qualifier in the morning, with the top 16 advancing to the afternoon heats. The afternoon heats are structured like a tennis ladder. Each heat of four skiers race the sprint course with the top two advancing to the next heat. The final four race the A-final for first through fourth place; the B-final determines 5th through 8th. The results rank the top 16 competitors according to their finish in the heats, and the rest of the competitors according to their finish in the qualifier. Sprints can be in either classic or freestyle technique
The Team Sprint or Sprint Relay: The Team Sprint consists of two-person teams, sprinting multiple laps around a sprint course. For example, in a 2 person x 3 lap x 1km event, the lead teammate starts in the mass start, sprints the 1km course, then tags off to their teammate, who sprints the course. They do this 3 times total. Sprint relays can be in either classic or freestyle technique.
The Relay: As in track, all teams start their first racer together in a mass start, and then tag off to their teammate in the ‘tag zone’. A tag consists of a hand-to-body touch; no pushes are allowed. A relay usually consists of 3 or 4 person teams.
Mixed Relay: On the world cup circuit and down, in a mixed relay the first two team members race in the classic technique and the last two team members race the skate technique.

The Pursuit: A race using both techniques, with a transition point mid-way into the race to change equipment (usually just skis and ski poles) and technique, while the clock continues to run.
Pursuits begin with a mass start, usually in the classic technique. Racers return to the stadium midway through the race to change from classic to skate equipment while the clock continues. Then they complete the second half of the race in the skate technique, sometimes on a different set of courses groomed for skating.
Pursuit race was adopted in the mid 1990’s. Originally it was a two-day event, with the winner of the first day’s event starting first and chased by the competitors according to Day ones finish, with the overall winner being the first across the line in Day two. In Europe it is also known as the "hunter start" because the rest of the pack in the second race hunts down the first day/first race winner. Now the two events of the Pursuit are run continuously, like a triathlon.
The Marathon
The ski marathon distance is 45-55kilometers, with some races, like the Swedish Vasaloppet covering as much as 90km. The American Ski Chase (xcskiworld.com) is a series of marathons from Alaska, to the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest and the East, and includes the American Birkebeiner in Telemark/Hayward, WI. The NENSA marathon series includes the Craftsbury Marathon (classic), the Sugarloaf Ski Marathon (freestyle), the Rangeley Lakes Loppet (classic) and the Great Glen to Bretton Woods Nordic Adventure (classic).
Most marathons start with wave starts, with racers ‘seeded’ according to their previous results. The faster racers begin first.
NENSA marathon series allows participants to choose to either race and be timed for published results, or tour the course at their own pace, un-timed or self-timed, and enjoying the feed stations along the way.

Ski Waxes

Kick wax: The sticky wax used in classic technique. Usually applied to the skis only underneath the boot and binding area (the "kick zone") of the ski base. The kick wax provides grip and traction on the snow. The camber of the ski keeps the kick wax off the snow while the skier glides; it sticks to the snow and provides traction when the skier kicks the ski down onto the snow.
Most ski brands have color-coded the waxes according to the air/snow temperature range they work best at. Usually from coldest - Green, Blue, Purple, Red, and Yellow – to warmest.
Hard (kick) wax: Comes in a 2” high, round tin. The wax is hard, like a crayon, and is rubbed onto the kick zone of the ski. Then a cork is rubbed over the wax to smooth it out.

Klister: An extra-sticky, gooey kick wax used only on crusty, icy, or mushy snow. It comes in a toothpaste-like tube and often has to be heated by a propane torch or heat gun, in order to be applied smoothly to the skis “kick zone’.

Glide wax: A slippery wax applied to the tips and tails of the ski base – not the kick zone - of Classic skis and to the entire length of Skating skis to lower the resistance of the ski base as it glides over the snow, thus increasing speed. Nordic glide wax is a more durable version of the wax used on alpine skis and snowboards.


New NENSA Website Coming Soon
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Upcoming Events

October 28-29, 2016
Ski Sale and Swap

October 30, 2016
NWVE One-Mile Roller Ski Time Trial

October 30, 2016
CSU Mt. Kearsarge Roller Ski Time Trail - SKATE

November 5, 2016
NENSA Regional Coaching Clinic, Lincoln-Sudbury High School

November 6, 2016
CSU Roller Ski Race - CLASSIC