The glistening powder field lay below me in all of its irresistibly seductive glory. Though I stood on cross-country skis, I decided this would be a perfect time to impress my wife with my telemarking prowess. As she took video, I charged into the snow in my best athletic stance, ready to float through the froth. Then, on the border of sun and shade, the snow grabbed and my face-plant came sudden and fast. Really more of a face-plow, I slid for an impressive distance, my head furrowing through the snow. In the video, my wife can be heard unsuccessfully suppressing her laughter while I sit up and attempt to unpack the ice corks from my nostrils.
If only I'd had the Karhu 10th Mountains. A hybrid of cross-country and alpine skis, the 10th Mountains are equally adept at skipping through meadows and carving turns down mountain snow fields. Sporting a fish-scale pattern on the base for traction (like waxless cross-country setups), and a generous sidecut with a full metal edge for turning and stability (like alpine gear), they're as close as you can get to a do-anything, go-anywhere ski. Other brands have similar features, but 10th Mountains are different in two critical ways: they're fatter and they have less camber.
Part of Karhu's XCD line (XCD stands for "cross-country downhill"), the 10th Mountains measure 99 millimeters at the tip, 68 at the waist, and 84 at the tail—dimensions a lot like the alpine skis you might have used a decade ago. Karhu's XCD line also includes the even fatter Guide model, which adds 10 millimeters to each of the above widths. But you can't beat the 10th Mountains for sheer versatility.
Their unique camber—the amount of flex or arc in the ski itself—is a big reason why. Traditional cross-country skis have a double camber, which makes turning them perilous but gives them lots of spring for efficient kick-and-gliding (and face-planting). Alpine and telemark skis have a single camber for supple, stable descending and easy turning, but they're too heavy and flat for trying to cover ground on the flats. The light, efficient 10th Mountains elegantly combine the benefits of both by having a camber and a quarter—which means there's some spring to enable classic cross-country touring technique, but not so much that it destabilizes you going downhill.
Depending on how you plan to ski, you can rig them with a variety of bindings and boots. For pure kick-and-glide performance, a light 3-pin or backcountry NNN or SNS binding would work well. But if you want to eat up miles and make turns, an ideal setup is the Voile 3-pin Cable binding ($85, www.voile-usa.com) with the Garmont Excursion boot ($420, www.garmontusa.com). The Excursion, a lightweight, ankle-height boot made of soft plastic, skis remarkably well in the flats, but delivers real power for turning. The simple Voile 3-pin is the most versatile binding in all of skiing; take the heel cables off for unrestricted cruising on mellow terrain, or put the cables on for maximum control on descents. The Voile-Karhu combo makes a super-stable setup that feels light underfoot while cruising logging roads or climbing, and descends anything that looks inviting along the way.
You could even try this svelte setup in a ski area, if you wanted to try to "out-pure" your fellow telemarkers, but that would be missing the point. These boards are meant for the backcountry. Think of them as cross-country skis on steroids, or the nordic version of a cyclo-cross bike. If, like me, you love skiing in the woods, but find groomed tracks too inhibiting and tame, the Karhu 10th Mountains might just become your favorites.