From Wooden Skis, Wax, And Pine Tar Bases To High Tech Equipment in 50 years.

Jessica Diggins with  Kikkan Randall win first Gold Medal for US XC in 2018, making Americans serious competitors on the international racing scene.

Since the time that wooden skis were found in a peat bog in Sweden dating to 2,000 BC, there have been many milestones that brought XC skiing to where it is today. In the USA, the forefathers of cross-country skiing include people like Snowshoe Thompson, who delivered the mail in the Sierra Mountains of California and Jack Rabbit Johannsen, who XC skied in northern New York.

Before around 1970 or so, XC skis were wooden, required the right wax combination to work on the snow, and bases had to be prepared with pine tar “melted” in. Since then, the XC world has experienced enormous growth and change.  The editors of, using various sources, considered this recent history and development of the sport and created this list of the Milestones of Modern XC Skiing in the USA in rank order of significance:

Waxless skis with fish
scale bottoms made skiing simpler. (Credit: Tahoe Trail Guide)

1. Development of synthetic XC skis in 1974.

2. Development of the waxless based ski in the early 1970’s, most notably the Trak ski with synthetic fish scales on the ski base to eliminate the need for ski waxes. The waxless base gave the recreational skier grip on uphill travel while also allowing gliding downhill.

3. Integrated XC ski binding systems, which provided substantial improvements in simplicity of boot/binding interface and control in the mid 70’s.



Bill Koch started skating on XC skis in the Olympics and changed the sport. Credit: ISHA

4. Olympic and World Cup successes, like Bill Koch who won the Olympic silver medal in 1976 and World Cup in 1982, the first American to ever win at that level. The Nordic Trak exerciser used the Koch image as a fitness icon in advertisements for years. In 2010, there was US Olympic medalists in Nordic Combined, and in 2012 there was a World Cup winner in women’s sprint.

5. The onset of the commercial XC ski area concept began in 1968-69 at Trapp Family Lodge. This brought designed, groomed, and maintained trails making XC skiing easier and safer for the average person.

6. The skating technique proliferated, creating a faster paced and higher performance form of recreation.

7. Revolution Skis developed by Fischer led the way to shorter skis which were easier to use and consolidated ski sizing and simplified ski selection.

Vintage Mother Karen XC jacket made of synthetics came out in the 80s.

8. New lighter clothing with synthetic and breathable materials was more conducive to XC skiing comfortably; company brands such as Mother Karen led the way in the late 1970’s.

9. Other technological advances such as the 2 Wax System that offered one wax for cold temperatures and one for warm temperatures simplified ski waxing, while the BackCountry binding systems provided a beefed up boot/binding system that provided substantially more support and control for backcountry recreation.

10. The Nordic Integrated System (NIS) developed in 2005 has changed the ski/binding interface.  This system combines the ski and binding at manufacture rather than at the retail store. NIS plates were affixed to the ski by the manufacturer and the binding was slid onto the plate rather than screwed directly into the ski.

The changes in XC skiing in the last 50 years has been explosive and exponential, compared to the 4000 prior years. What’s next? Better binding-ski-boot systems, warmer-adaptable clothing, improved grooming, and more resorts catering to the sport.


One Comment

  1. Great summary of these amazing changes. There’s such a thing as “progress,” although a fair number of people stick with their old equipment and miss out on a lot of the fun.

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