Before you let your mind schuss straight to double-blacks and deep powder, there's one thing you need to know about skiing: it calls for a shitload of gear. Lots of it is technical, most of it is expensive, and nearly all of it is essential (you can ski in jeans, weather permitting, but that doesn't mean you should). Here, we melt all the key hard goods down into a core offering so that you can spend less time in the shop (online or otherwise) and more time on the slopes.
With more variety than ever, there truly is a ski for every type of person, every kind of condition, and every aesthetic preference too. The first thing you need to decide when looking into purchasing skis is what type of skiing you do and what type of skier you are. Chances are one of today's wildly versatile all-mountain models will do the trick, though if you're building a backcountry kit, you might look at something more specialized.
You might also save buying skis for last. Ski rental shops abound and provide the opportunity to test lots of different types before shelling out hundreds on a pair of your own. (Most shops will apply the cost of a demo to the price of a new ski if you buy it off their wall, too.)
If you can only afford to invest in either skis or boots, make it the boots. They're much easier to travel with, and having a pair that fits your feet well is essential to controlling the skis beneath them and to becoming a better skier. A pair pulled off the rental rack will never provide that. Ever. Plus, they'll be all sweaty and stinky.
Ski bindings are technical, essential and often an afterthought. Whether a binding "fits" a skier results from an equation involving height, weight, skier type and the length of your ski boot. Ski shop staff will figure all this out for you, and here are a few models you might inquire about when you're there.
Ski poles shouldn't be an afterthought — compare a nice set with a rental pair, and you'll see why — but you don't have to buy the most expensive ones on the rack. Backcountry-curious skiers also need to think about purchasing climbing skins.
Here's where a lot of new skiers cut corners. Sure, you might be able to get away with warm work gloves on the mountain, but we wouldn't rely on a knit pair that isn't waterproof. You should consider a helmet required (not all shops rent them), and remember that goggles not only help you see but also protect your face from the elements. Pro tip: get your helmet and goggles from the same brand and you'll spend less time worrying about the dreaded gaper gap.
If you're going to head out beyond the resort boundary, there are three other things you have to bring. We'll repeat it: you have to have these things. They are a shovel, probe and avalanche beacon. But you also need proper training on how to use them — you can check AIARE's list of providers to find an Avy 1 course — and you need a ski partner who's equipped and trained too.
We warned you at the start of all this: skiing involves a lot of gear. Enough to demand specialized bags for carrying it all — on the mountain, from the house to the car and in the airport. Here are a few toting options we love.