Cross-country skiing is the original form of skiing, which evolved to enhance travel in snowy northern regions of Europe and Asia. In the past 40 years, free heel ski equipment has become more specialized, as telemark skiers have pursued downhill skiing on free heal gear, requiring beefier bindings and skis. Light-touring skis, which are used to travel both uphill and downhill on rolling terrain, generally have a waxless fishscale pattern for uphill grip. Generally, skis for backpacking will have metal edges for grip on uphill traverses and performance skiing down but will be lighter and more flexible than standard downhill skis.
Karhu XCD 10th Mountain Backcountry Skis
In the grand tradition of the 10th Mountain Division Troops, the Karhu XCD 10th Mountain Backcountry Skis ($309, 2010 prices) has a lightweight wood core and smooth sidecut radius of 99/68/84mm to help with turn initiation. The XCD is available in lengths of 165cm, 175cm, 185cm and 195cm. Full-metal edges provide control when skiing down or traversing steep slopes. The 175cm weighs only 5.12 pounds per pair, a perfect compromise between being heavy enough to ski down well and light enough that the uphill won't tire you out.
Rossignol BC 90 Positrack
The Rossignol BC 90 Positrack ($289, 2010 prices) is a skinny backcountry ski, with a sidecut radius of 88/60/78mm, and is available in four lengths of 159cm, 169cm, 179cm and 189cm. While narrow enough for in-area cross-country touring, the BC 90's shovel is still wide enough to handle all but the deepest powder dumps. The wood core provides just enough stiffness, and the metal edges ensure good downhill performance. At only 4.65 pounds per pair, the BC 90 hits a sweet spot with weight to performance.
Atomic Sierra Posigrip
The Atomic Sierra Posigrip gets back to the older, skinnier designs, with a sidecut radius of 69/56/63mm. Its double camber construction gives it excellent kick and glide performance, and the Densolite foam core saves additional weight. Full-metal edges ensure good downhill performance. The Sierra is available in three lengths: 168cm, 180cm and 192cm. At only 3.85 pounds per pair, the Sierra's weight won't drag you down on uphill travel with a heavy pack.