There are many physical factors important for success in cross-country skiing, most important is aerobic fitness, strength and a strong will. Body size, such as height and weight, also plays a part, though based on my reader's feedback you would not think so. Only 2% of respondents indicated that body size and composition is the most important for success in cross-country skiing, and also body size and composition was also voted lowest of the 12 factors of success in cross-country skiers.
While there is no perfect body shape type in the sport of cross-country skiing, you will find that the shorter and stockier athletes tend to gravitate to the sprint events, the taller leaner athletes to the longer distance cross-country events.
The cross-country skier has many similarities to distance runners, although cross-country skiing is a whole body sport and so upper body strength plays a more important part. Compared to runners, skiers need more strength and therefore have a greater muscle mass and are generally a little heavier.
The changes in skiing equipment and technique over time have also resulted in changes in body size requirements. An hifher level of arm strength is needed with today's faster skis, which require more force to be generated from the upper body. This is particularly true in classic skiing which uses a lot of double-poling action.
Our analysis of the men's 50km cross-country skiing champions from every Winter Olympics found an average height of 180.7cm / 5' 11" and weight 74.2 kg / 164 lbs. Tim Hewett, director of Ohio State University's Sports Health and Performance Institute, noted that the average American man on the USA cross-country skiing team for Sochi 2014 was 175cm / 5'9" and 77kg / 170 pounds, the women were 165cm / 5'5" and 58kg / 128 pounds (source). The men on this team are taller and lighter than the averages of the Olympic champions.
- Losnegard T, Hallén J. Physiological differences between sprint- and distance-specialized cross-country skiers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2014 Jan;9(1):25-31.
- Kim Hébert-Losier, Christoph Zinner, Simon Platt, Thomas Stöggl, Hans-Christer Holmberg, Factors that Influence the Performance of Elite Sprint Cross-Country Skiers Sports, Medicine 2017, 47 (2): 319-342.