Cross-country skiing originated many centuries ago in Scandinavia. It became popular as a competitive and recreational sport in Canada over the last century, with the first National Championships held in 1921. It was first aggressively promoted in North America during the depression years by Herman “Jackrabbit” Smith-Johannsen, not surprisingly a Norwegian by birth. Smith-Johannsen, was a pioneer in developing trail networks north of Montreal and received his nickname from the Cree Indians during his fleet footed travels in the bush. “Jackrabbit” died at the age of 110, and still skied after the age of 100 years old.
In 1981, Cross Country Canada introduced the Jackrabbit Ski League for Canadian children, named in honour of “Jackrabbit”. Since its inception the Ski League and other development programs introduced by Cross Country Canada, have become the largest learn to ski programs in North America. Many Canada Games and Olympic athletes were first introduced to the sport as Jackrabbit Ski League participants.
From the ‘70’s to the 2000’s the sport has witnessed significant change. The traditional style of skiing, “classic”, is like running with a glide, uses set tracks and variations of the diagonal and double pole stride. It has been joined by “skating”, sometimes called “free technique”, which is somewhat like ice skating with poles. More changes have occurred in race formats since as well, and a balance between classic skiing and skating technique, has been maintained.
In 2000 the international governing body introduced the sprint event. Since cross country racing’s inception, the sport has always been an endurance-based sport focusing on distance events from 5km to 50km, with skiers starting at 30 second intervals and skiing on long loops. Now with the sprints, pursuit, and mass starts events, and shorter loops, the sport has become more friendly stadium spectators and TV.
In recent years Canada has had significant success internationally, most notably with Beckie Scott’s upgrade from a bronze to a gold medal at the Olympics in 2002.
Other recent event highlights, in addition to many World Cup Podiums.
Beckie Scott and Sara Renner, team sprint silver at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Chandra Crawford, individual sprint gold, 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw, team sprint gold, 2011 World Championships Oslo, Norway
Alex Harvey, gold in the 50k at the 2017 World Championships and 3 other World Championship podiums