Per Olsen was born in Alta in the northern part of Norway, and became national junior champion in the 15 km and Nordic combined in 1952. His best placing in Holmenkollen was third place in Nordic combined in 1955. After that he concentrated on cross-country skiing, qualifying for the 1956 Olympic team. He also competed in the 1954 and 1958 World Championships. He never won a national senior title, placing second in both the 15 and 30 km races in 1957. To obtain better training conditions, he moved to Trysil in the southern part of Norway, where he worked as a carpenter, but he moved back to Alta with his family in 1968, serving as a cross-country coach with his club Alta IF. His son Ole married Olympic speed skater Anette Tønsberg.