Successful cross-country skiing, one of the most demanding of endurance sports, involves considerable physiological challenges posed by the combined upper- and lower-body effort of varying intensity and duration, on hilly terrain, often at moderate altitude and in a cold environment. Over the years, this unique sport has helped physiologists gain novel insights into the limits of human performance and regulatory capacity. There is a long-standing tradition of researchers in this field working together with coaches and athletes to improve training routines, monitor progress, and refine skiing techniques. This review summarizes research on elite cross-country skiers, with special emphasis on the studies initiated by Professor Bengt Saltin. He often employed exercise as a means to learn more about the human body, successfully engaging elite endurance athletes to improve our understanding of the demands, characteristics, and specific effects associated with different types of exercise.