What model? Which size? How much? Armed with a little knowledge, you'll find gear that can take you to the next level, and for less money than you might think.
If you haven't bought skis in a while and you browse these pages, you may be in for sticker shock: $750? They're kidding, right? Well, yes and no: Yes, the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) we use might be $750, but no, that's not what most dealers will charge you. Regardless of what the manufacturer suggests, retailers are mostly on their own on pricing. Resort stores, with short selling seasons, high rents and often superior service, have to charge more to make a profit than do urban shops. But MSRP is often just a bargaining chip: Customers want deals, and the sticker price gives retailers "wiggle room."
As a rule, many shops take 10 to 15 percent off a ski or boot's MSRP or even more if it's late in a snowless season. Package deals bring the price even lower. It's still an investment, but if you take what you paid 10 years ago and factor in inflation, it's reasonable-especially since the old stuff skis like fence posts compared to today's gear.
Once you've decided you're willing to dump those Northlands with the Spademan plates, you have a quick sizing calculation to perform. And it's easy: Buy shorter skis. Manufacturers are cramming higher performance into shorter lengths. Experts have taken 5-12 cm off their ski lengths in the past few years; lesser skiers should lop 12-18 cm. Many manufacturers don't even build a 200 anymore.
Finally, today's skier must consider not only length but width. As recently as five years ago, virtually all skis had waists in the 62- to 65-mm range (exception: powder-only "fat boys"). Then came the sidecut revolution, and manufacturers discovered they could make skis wider, for stability and flotation, without sacrificing too much edge-grip and carvability on the hard-pack. Today you'll see "all-mountain" skis from 62 to 80 mm. If you spend most of your time in soft snow, go with something over 70: You'll enjoy the buoyancy. If you're more often found on the groomed, you'll want a narrower waist. If you ever get the chance, find a consumer "demo day" and try different shapes and widths.
That's not a luxury you'll have with boots, which may be among the most difficult consumer purchases. Buy the wrong boot, and it won't just perform poorly, it could hurt. That means doing some work (reading up, and trying as many different brands as possible) and relying on your shop's expertise. Here are some fundamental considerations:
Fit: Don't expect boots to fit like sneakers. Think firm handshake. Especially when they're new, boots should feel tight. After a few hours of skiing, the padding compresses. The most common mistake buyers make is going too big.
Stance: If you're bowlegged or knock-kneed, you need boots with a cuff adjuster. And you may need additional work to put your body in an efficient position (see story, page 152).
Flex: Generally, the bigger you are and the better you ski, the stiffer the flex you need. If you ski powder frequently, opt for a softer-flexing AME or Freerider boot; if you ski hard-pack or in gates, stiffen up.
Price: Boots aren't the place to skimp. Good-fitting boots stay with you a long time. The best skiers swap skis every year or two but hold onto boots until the buckles rust off. Shops that offer expert boot-fitting might charge more, but you can be sure your boots will be custom fit for optimal performance and comfort.
Custom footbeds: If you have fit problems or crave performance, they're worth the $150 investment.