Ski rentals acquire a classy touch

It's getting easier to rent quality ski equipment, and that's good for the casual skier. Among the young in particular, rentals have always carried a stigma (as in ''yuch! Rented boots and skis - how gauche!'').

In today's economy and with the changes taking place at ski resorts, however, rentals have a new aspect. To make purchasing new quality skis, boots, and poles worthwhile at today's prices, you must ski several times a season for several seasons.

But what if you ski at most a week a year, and not every year at that? And what if there are several in the family to outfit? Does it really make sense to spend up to perhaps $1,000 on ski gear?

Well, if the line in the rental shop is interminable, the equipment reminiscent of a thrift shop and painted a telltale ''do-not-remove-from-ski-area'' gray, many would opt for anything but to rent.

Therefore, some resorts and ski equipment suppliers have been teaming up to offer not only much better gear, but also a more efficient process of dispensing it. The same thing is coming about at more off-premises rental operations - shops near ski areas that specialize in renting.

This season, Look bindings and Nordica boots have a sort of test operation at Stratton ski area, Vermont. In their ''integrated system,'' the boot sole is uniform for all sizes. The only binding adjustment usually required is for the skier's weight.

Salomon is another binding company that is helping resort rental operations design more efficient and pleasant facilities. In the Jack Frost shop at Wildcat , N. H., renters never will even see the technicians who adjust their bindings. Instead, they will pad along a carpeted floor - from boot fitting to ski pickup - while being instructed on the use of the gear by a videotape. Ah, skiing! She ain't what she used to be.

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