Competitors attempt to achieve the most points during the season. They compete in two disciplines: Distance and Sprint. Current Distance races are 15 km, 30 km, Skiathlon and 50 km for the men and 10 km, 15 km, Skiathlon and 30 km for ladies. The competitions are held with either individual start or mass start and either classic or free technique. In Sprint races, athletes are organised in heats based on their results in a prologue where the 30 fastest skiers qualify for the sprint's quarter-finals. The 12 best skiers in the quarter-finals advance to the semi-finals and the 6 best skiers in the semi-finals advance to the final. Sprint races are maximum 1.8 kilometres and are competed in either classic or free technique.
In ordinary World Cup races, 100 points are awarded to the winner, 80 for second place, 60 for third place, winding down to 1 point for 30th place. In Stage World Cup races; Tour de Ski, World Cup Final and mini-tours, 50 points are awarded to the winner, 46 for second place, 43 for third place, winding down to 1 point for 30th place. The overall winners of the Stage World Cup events are awarded 400 points for Tour de Ski victory and 200 points for a overall win in the World Cup Final or a mini-tour. The athlete with the most points at the end of the season in mid-March wins the Overall World Cup, with the trophy consisting of a 9 kilogram crystal globe. Sub-prizes are also awarded to the winners of the Sprint World Cup and the Distance World Cup, with a smaller 3.5 kg crystal globe.
Races are hosted primarily in Europe, with regular stops in the Nordic countries and Central Europe. A few races have also been held in North America and Asia. World Cup competitions have been hosted in 23 different countries around the world: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Soviet Union, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. (Note that all World Cup races hosted in Bosnia were held when it was still part of Yugoslavia.)
b.12 World Cup Final is held since 2007/08 season, except 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons. The stages of its first edition were not counted as a Stage World Cup race, hence no World Cup points were awarded.
c.12 Tour de Ski is held annually since 2006/07 season. World Cup points were not awarded for the stage races in its first edition.
^ abcMarja-Liisa Hämäläinen married with Harri Kirvesniemi in 1984 and have used her married name since then.
^ abcdefgBente Martinsen married with Geir Skari in 1999 and have used her married name since then.
^Team events (relays and team sprints) are not included in the table due to lack of appropriate sources for many relay races prior to 1995/96 World Cup season.
^Until 1999 World Championships and 1994 Olympics, World Championship and Olympic races were included in the World Cup scoring system.
^Kowalczyk stated in an interview that she was in fact born on 19 January 1983, but a registrar mistakenly noted 23 January, which wasn't officially corrected. Hence, her registered birthday at FIS is used in computing her age.