For the vast majority of us, cross-country (XC) skiing is something you do when you’re bored at your parents’ cabin and need to get out of the house. But in Norway, cross-country skiing is a reason to fall to your knees in despair, anguish, exhaustion or elation. It divides families and friend groups, unites communities and creates immeasurable bonds. It is the ultimate test in pure athletic ability and endurance. Cross-country skiing is to Norwegians what hockey is to Canadians, soccer to the English, and football to small towns across the USA — it divides the weak from the strong, the fickle from those with fortitude, and as the cream rises to the top. As a result, skiers are held even higher by the esteem of their country.

Cross-country skiing is the pride of Norway, and practiced by all: old, young, rich, poor, tall, small, serious and flippant. They ski long, well and with fine Nordic form. Visit in the winter and you will see people carrying skis with them everywhere (ski rentals are unheard of as skiers are expected to own their own pair).

There is a saying in Norway that goes “If you were not put on a pair of cross-country skis around the same time you started walking, there is a good chance you have some Swedish in you.”

This photographic essay captures Norway’s remarkable teenage cross-country skiers. They are achieving distances and speeds greater then their peers. Through practice and competitions, they push themselves beyond their physical limits again and again. They exist in a sport that is very specific to a small, Nordic country but are not discouraged by the lack of interest from their peers throughout the world. They are in it for the love of pure sport.

Photography and text: Alana Lynn Paterson (Insta)