Bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine with asthma-like symptoms ("ski asthma") is frequent in elite cross-country skiers. To further the understanding of "ski asthma", 10 nonasthmatic, nonatopic controls and 30 adolescent elite skiers were investigated by bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). Nine skiers were atopic without allergy symptoms. Compared with controls, the macroscopic inflammatory index in the proximal airways in skiers was three-fold greater (median (interquartile range) 3.0 (2.0-5.0) versus 1.0 (0.8-2.3), p=0.008). In the BAL fluid, skiers had significantly greater total cell (p<0.05) and percentage lymphocyte (p<0.01) and mast cell counts (p<0.05). Neutrophil and eosinophil counts were not significantly different and eosinophil cationic protein was not detected. Tumour necrosis factor-alpha and myeloperoxidase were detected in 12 (40%) and six (20%) skiers, respectively. In skiers with ski asthma, the inflammatory index was greater than in nonasthmatic skiers. Lymphocyte subtypes and activation markers, and concentration of albumin, fibronectin and hyaluronan were not different from those in controls. Cross-country skiers have a minor to moderate degree of macroscopic inflammation in the proximal airways at bronchoscopy and a bronchoalveolar lavage fluid profile which differs in several respects from healthy controls. Skiers with ski asthma tend to show even higher degrees of bronchial inflammation.