Here are some simple definitions:
Free (Technique) – any skating or classic technique allowed. A classic track should be made available unless snow conditions are poor.
Classic – in this race format only only classic techniques are allowed (i.e. diagonal, double pole, herringbone without glide, downhill techniques). Step turn technique is allowed. Turning technique with pushing is not allowed wherever there is a set track even if you choose to ski outside of the track.
Mass Start – when an entire field/category/class of racers start at the same time.
Interval Start – each skier starts at a given time (usually 15 second intervals).
Loppet – a Scandinavian term, refers to a mass participation event that includes longer, marathon length distances and both recreational and competitive elements. Some definitions refer to a loppet as a “citizen’s race.” A popular competition organized for the enjoyment of participating competitors. Usually involves competitors with a wide range of experience and ability. Good sportsmanship and courtesy is expected. Typically the distance is long (30+ km) however, it is common for shorter distances to be offered.
Tour – a non-timed event organized solely for participation and fellowship.
Individual Sprint – usually begins with an interval start, timed, qualification round followed by a series of elimination heats. Heats are non-timed, mass starts with the front runners advancing to the next series of heats.
Team Sprint – a relatively new competition format in which teams of 2 skiers each sprint against other teams. The 1st members of each team start together, complete a lap, tag off to the 2nd members who complete a lap etc. until each member completes 3 laps.
Pursuit – This is a 2 race series which tests a skier’s ability in both classic and free techniques. The 1st race is an interval start (usually classic). The fastest skier in race #1 starts first in race #2. From race #1 the time interval behind the winner is calculated for each skier and becomes their delayed start time in race #2. The first skier to cross the finish in race #2 is declared the winner.
Relay Competitions – consist of teams of 3 to 4 skiers, each skiing the course, one after another until all team members have finished. The first leg is a mass start. Each skier may be required to use the same technique or the race may have mixed techniques. An exciting event to watch and a fun event for teams of mixed abilities.
Skiathlon – a race where both classic and free technique are used with an equipment change occurring at mid distance (in an exchange zone). Yes, you can buy skiathlon specific boots (but you don’t have to)!
Schools race (see Wed Night Race Series) – are simply designated races for school teams to come out ski with/against each other and everybody else.