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.)
All-Mountain: K2 Mindbender 99Ti
"Big but agile. Heavy but nimble. Predictable but fun." That's how one of our ski testers described the Mindbender 99Ti. K2 built it with a unique Y-shaped metal layer that's simultaneously stiff and forgiving, which allows it to accommodate all conditions and styles of skiing.
Backcountry: Faction Agent
You can drill a set of touring bindings onto any pair of skis, but if you're going to hike instead of ride the chairlift, there are additional considerations you might make. How much your skis weigh is the primary one, and Faction's Agent line, which is available in various widths, keeps that low without becoming brittle or twitchy. Because hey, you're hiking up because you want to enjoy the ride down.
Carving: Line Skis Blade
Line made the Blade to do one thing: turn. Its layup includes a bisected sheet of metal, which provides power and stability without hampering the ski's ability to flex. That, combined with a shape characterized by a tight (95mm) waist and wide tip and tail make it a carving machine.
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.
Alpine: Nordica Promachine
Comfort and performance are often mutually exclusive in ski boots, but that's not the case with the Promachine. Nordica fused elements of its race-oriented boots with those of its all-mountain line to create a platform upon which skiers can build their ability without cramping up.
Touring: Dynafit Hoji Free
Like many touring boots, the Hoji Free is lighter than its alpine counterparts and includes a grippy tread, as well as the requisite tech inserts in the toe for touring binding compatibility. However, it stands apart with a proprietary lock system that simultaneously loosens the top buckle and puts the boot into walk mode with the flip of a lever.
Hybrid: Atomic Hawx Ultra Xtd
Hybrid ski boots for resort and backcountry use have always been masters of neither. Not anymore. The Hawx Ultra Xtd is a perfect example, boasting compatibility with nearly all types of bindings, a walk mode that allows 54 degrees of motion, and the stiffness and performance you need for hot laps at the town hill. It's heavier than touring-specific boots, but a few extra ounces make an easier pill to swallow than another $700 on a second pair for the resort.
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.
Alpine: Look Pivot 14 GW
A key characteristic of ski bindings is elastic travel, which refers to how far the binding can move before it releases. The thing to know about the Pivot is that it has a lot of that, making it one of the most secure alpine bindings available.
Touring: Dynafit ST Rotation 10
Dynafit's ST Radical is a reliable, easy-to-use, lightweight touring binding. It weighs roughly 21 ounces and has an auto-aligning toe piece that's easier to click into than some other backcountry bindings. Lighter bindings exist, but the ST Rotation makes up for those extra ounces with reliability and security.
Hybrid: Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC 13
With a transforming toe piece that switches from touring mode to downhill mode in seconds, the Shift is one of a rare few ski bindings that combines alpine and backcountry capabilities into one unit.
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.
Salomon Arctic S3 Ski Poles
Salomon's straightforward aluminum poles are affordable, lightweight, and include a self-releasing strap.
Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro Ski Poles
If you plan to backcountry ski, consider a set of poles that's lighter and has an adjustable length — which you might want to adjust for hiking or skinning, or collapse entirely to strap them to your backpack.
Pomoca Climb 2.0 Climbing Skins
Another thing you'll need for ski touring is a set of reliable climbing skins. Stick these onto the bottom of your skis so that they can grip the snow on the walk to the summit, and then stash them in your pack or jacket pocket for the ride down. This set from Pomoca offers an ideal balance between grip and glide.
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.
Giro Grid MIPS Helmet
Protect your noggin with a helmet that includes MIPS, a safety technology that protects against impacts (most, if not all, crashes). This model from Giro is also size-adjustable and has a warm Polartec lining.
Sweet Protection Boondock RIG Goggle
When it comes to goggles, skiers too often bargain budget for quality, but the best skis or boots won't get you very far if you can't see the snow beneath your feet. Sweet Protection's Boondock comes with two lenses that are easy to interchange. Each one repels moisture and grime, resists scratches and enhances contrast so you can see every little detail, snow or shine.
Dakine Baron Gore-Tex Mitten
Mittens beat gloves for warmth every time. The Baron maintains a high degree of dexterity too, plus it's a lot cheaper than others made of leather and includes Gore-Tex liners.
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.
Mammut Alugator Ride 3.0 Hoe
The Alugator Ride 3.0 is big enough to move snow quickly and includes a sizeable D-shaped handle to help you maintain a firm grip while you do it. Additionally, its shaft provides a second hoe-style blade position for raking snow out of the way.
Black Diamond QuickDraw Probe
The QuickDraw comes in various lengths and is available in aluminum or carbon fiber. Each version features a fast deployment system that automatically locks into place.
Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon
BCA's Tracker beacons are among the most widely used because their interface is so straightforward. The Tracker3 has three antennas for triangulating an avalanche victim's location and a 50-meter range, plus a bright display that's easy to read.
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.
Patagonia Descensionist Pack 32L
Ski packs are often too small or too technical, but the newly updated Descensionist walks the line. That's mostly thanks to a roll-top construction that makes its 32-liter capacity feel smaller when you're carrying a light load, but also because it offers multiple ways to carry skis or a snowboard, a dedicated backcountry gear pocket and a side-access zipper that makes it easy to reach that layer you stuffed at the bottom.
Evo Boot Pack
Evo's boot backpack is slimmer than comparable bags but maintains enough space for your boots, helmet, goggles and other mountain essentials. Evo made it with a 900-denier ripstop and reinforced its bottom, so don't worry about tossing it around.
Dakine Ski Roller Bag
Dakine's most popular ski bag is incredibly versatile, with room for two pairs of skis. Or, pack one pair and there's enough space (and a bag) for your boots, plus lots more gear.