(Editor's note -- This article was prepared by Matthias H. Klinke, last year's Harbus photographer and an expert German skier and equipment dealer. It is being reprinted with slight modifications because of its practical point of view and expert insight.)
Many students would want to pick up skiing this year and are thinking of buying equipment or just renting it for weekends. If you are serious about the whole thing, it pays to have your own equipment, but if you only want to go once or twice in the coming two seasons, you should rent.
Buying your outfit takes time and unless you are already an expert skier it is worth it to take this time, since you don't only waste your money but may also neglect the safety factor if you purchase anywhere and in a hurry.
In the greater Boston area, probably the largest ski market in New England, there are some shops which over the years have acquired a reputation of being specialists in the ski equipment field. Most of them advertise in this supplement and it is well worth it for you to shop around and see what they have, even if you have to take a half hour ride or so. You will be pleased by the design of some of them; you will meet skiers from ski countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland or expert skiers and instructors from this country.
To give you an idea before you go out, what you should look for and what you will have to pay, here is some basic advice.
Start with skiboots. They are the most important part of your equipment and could give you the worst troubles if not properly selected. Basic requirements are a good strong sole with not too much rubber between the leather layers, a strong heel or heel cap, clean stitching around the sole and a strong upper leather. The most expensive boots are those with the upper leather made of one or two pieces.
You should have a boot with inner boot which makes it more comfortable and gives you more support. However, today there are the so called "buckle boots" which do not really require an inner boot, since you can close them so tightly without being a lumber jack.
When you try on a boot, bring the heavy rag socks you will wear and a medium-heavy cotton sock. An expert will always sell you a tight fitting boot, since after a while the leather will stretch and mould to your foot. Push your foot forward as far as possible so that your toe touches the end and then feel how much room there is in back at the heel. If it is more than one finger, the boot is too big.
There are hundreds of brands and all have different cuts, so if you can't fit into one particular brand, try another one. When laced, the boot should feel tight and should really bother you a little, but make sure that your toes are not pinched. The heel should not move upwards when you walk or lean forward.
Again, spend most time and proportionally the most money on boots; they can save you a cast. The least a beginning should spend on boots is from $20 to $30. For around $50 you can expect a boot that will last for a long time and still be good enough for advanced skiers.
When buying skis, most people look for the most attractive ones -- women buy to match their pants or parkas. There is not much to be said about that except to say that it is wrong. It is what is inside that counts.
There are so many factors that make a ski good that it is possible only to give a basic guide to go by.
All skis today are laminated and the best combination in wooden skis is hickery with ash; flexibility is determined by the ratio of the two. In the lower price ranges ash is mainly used. The ski should have a durable plastic base, preferably "Kofix" or "P-Tex" which are polyethylene bottoms, require very little waxing and are easy to repair. Steel edges should be interlocking and slightly offset at tips and ends of the ski. The top should have a plastic cover or lacquer and plastic top edges.
An ash ski with the abovementioned features sells for about $35 or $40 and is definitely adequate for the beginner. The advanced skier will have to pay from $4 to $70 for an ash-hickory laminated ski if he thinks he has outgrown the stage when he looks up at better skiers mostly from the bath-tub perspective.
Some of the best wooden skis are German and Austrian models. Wood skies carry no manufacturer's degree.
Metal and fiberglass skis are great, but for beginners it is better to wait a while for them. You might not like skiing after all.
A good pair of metal skis represent a life-time purchase. They most in the $100-$150 range, and usually carry a one-year guarantee. Fiberglass skis are in the $20 range, and are customarily guaranteed for five years.
As far as the proper length of the ski is concerned, a rule of thumb is for men from nine to twelve inches over their head, depending on weight and physical fitness. Never buy them any shorter than that because it is dangerous. For women the rule would be from six to nine inches.
The hardware that ties the boots to the skis is called the binding: don't say harness or "the works on the ski." It irritates skiers. Except for some old-timers in the backwoods of Maine or the Black Forest, everybody uses a release binding today.
Many different types are on the market and in my opinion a double release toepiece with a release cable is the best combination. Properly adjusted the binding will prevent many accidents and you will do well to come with the set. In any case buy a so-called "Arlberg Strap" with the binding. A simple release stop will not prevent the ski from whirling around once the binding has released. A binding costs around $15 to $18, depending on the selection of the toepiece. In no case, however, should beginners use the swivel heels, since they do not provide adequate safety in forward spills.
Poles are part of the ski, but here you can save all the money you want to. They run from about $5 to $25, but for the newcomer the least expensive one will do the job.
Clothing is completely up to you, but make sure that you are warm enough. The sharpest and tightest pants with stripes on the sides don't help you in subzero temperatures unless you have long underwear. Snow bunnies may admire you beautiful haircut and lots of grease (kid . . .) in it, but frozen ears can harm this picture considerably.
Again, spend some time in the shop and let experts explain to you what is best and why. Select from the advertising two or three stores which appeal most to you, take your wife or date along and enter the first stage of your skiing career.