With three-time Olympic medalist Jessie Diggins leading the way, the U.S. women’s cross-country team has made major strides in recent years.
But outside of the athletes competing, the world of cross-country skiing remains something of a boys’ club.
“Women are really underrepresented in ski coaching, but also in the technician roles, which are massive in cross-country,” says U.S. cross-country program director Chris Grover.
A new proposal submitted to the FIS cross-county committee by U.S. Ski and Snowboard aims to change this paradigm. Under the new guidelines, each cross-country team on the World Cup circuit will receive a maximum of eight “course access” bibs, so long as two are used by women.
“So if you don’t have any women coaches or techs, you are going to max out at six (bibs),” Grover explains.
The proposal was accepted by the cross-country committee earlier this month, but is subject to approval by the FIS Council, which meets on May 26.
While an extra “course access” bib or two might not sound important, in the world of cross-country skiing — where races can be won or lost based on the way wax is applied to skis — having this additional support could be huge.
“Course access is a really coveted quantity because the more people you can put on course, the more products you can test, the more skis you can test, the more athletes you can help,” says Grover.
This past season, the seven-member U.S. coaching staff — which oversees both the men’s and women’s national teams — included two women: Kate Johnson and Greta Anderson. Johnson, the D-team coach, traveled with the U.S. team on the World Cup circuit, while Anderson served as the development team coach.
The U.S. also traveled on the World Cup circuit with a service staff of six, all men. According to Grover, the U.S. has never had a woman serve as a full-time ski tech position.
This gender disparity isn’t unique to the sport of cross-country skiing or the U.S. team. Across cross-country’s World Cup circuit, there is just one woman who has held a long-term position as a wax tech: Vale Vuerich, head of service for the Slovenian team.
In addition to the new bib allocation system, the FIS cross-country committee also accepted a proposal that will see men and women race equal distances during World Cup races, and at the Junior World Championships, U23 World Championships, and Youth Olympic Games beginning next season. Unlike the bib proposal, which didn’t receive any dissent according to Grover, the equal distance decision was more contentious. It ultimately passed with a 57 percent majority, though the question of whether men and women will race equal distances at the senior world championship level will be revisited in May 2023.
According to the FIS cross-country press release, the main argument against was “the time that women need to cover the same distance as men and the effective TV time.”
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