Competition at the Highest Levels

Nordic Skiing

Nordic Skiing

Cross-country ski racing first appeared at the Winter Paralympics in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Today the sport includes standing races, sitting events for wheelchair users, and competitions for visually impaired athletes.

Paralympic cross-country skiers compete in men’s and women’s individual events over short, middle and long distances ranging from 1.6 mi to 12.4 mi. Cross-country skiers also compete in team relays.

Nordic events are split into two kinds of races, depending on which ski technique the racer chooses:

“Classical” - the skis move in parallel on the snow

“Free” - skiers use a speed skating motion to push off with the edges of their skis. Introduced at the 1984 Games, free style is slightly faster than classical.

Nordic sit-skiers only race in classical style, using their poles to propel the ski chairs on two parallel skis.

Classical skis used by standing athletes are usually 10 to 12 in taller than the skier. Free technique skis are 4 to 6 in shorter than the athlete, for greater maneuverability.

In addition to the “bucket” or seat, a sit-ski has seat belts, strapping, and shock absorbers for greater comfort and control.

Athletes with visual impairments ski with a sighted guide who calls out directions as needed.

In international competition, “nordic skiing” generally means cross-country racing. In the US, “nordic” refers to both cross-country racing and biathlon, and US nordic athletes compete in either or both.

The International Paralympic Committee assigns each racer a disability time handicap, a percentage that is applied to the skier’s final time. The skier or team with the lowest calculated time wins.

Class Disability

LW 2-4

Skiers with leg impairments who can ski standing up.

LW 5-8

Skiers with impairment in one or both arms. They ski standing but use one or no poles, depending on their class.

LW 9

Skiiers with impairments in both arms and legs who can ski standing. They can ski with one or two ski poles.

LW 10-12

Sit-skiers, athletes with impairments in their legs. They are placed in classes 10,11, or 12 depending on trunk control, important for acceleration and balance.


Skiers with visual disabilities. B1 athletes, who are blind or have very low acuity, wear black eyeshades and must ski with a guide. B2 and B3 athletes have the choice of skiing with or without a guide.

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