Renting quality skis makes sense for some

How much can you afford to spend for a pair of skis? What do you have to spend for decent quality? Will you be happiest with longer skis - the current trend - or shorter ones? Do you ski often enough to make the investment worth it?

If you're coming up with discouraging answers or if you ski less than 10 days a season, you might consider other options than buying new equipment. Sometimes, people who have dropped out of skiing and want to come back decide their old gear is out of date but they can't afford to start over. If they were pretty good at one time, they remember the old-time stigma associated with rentals, which usually belonged to social skiers and beginners. The only thing worse than the way the skis looked was the way they skied.

Not so today, particularly at major resorts. A new breed of skiers is emerging, one that loves the sport but may not be able to ski more than a week a year. And not every year at that. There's no way most of them can justify plunking down hundreds of dollars for high-tech gear on top of what a ski vacation - or two or three weekends - will cost them.

The answer for growing numbers is to rent, not just any old rental but a first-line demo from a ski shop at or near the ski resort. These skis command a premium rental fee. But the price is a lot less than buying top gear, and you have the advantage of trying the latest and best, all tuned and ready to ski. Moreover, you don't have to lug gear through airports or parking lots; you learn a lot about which skis work for you; and if and when you do buy, you're a lot surer of what you want. Finally, most shops apply the demo rental toward any pair of skis you eventually do buy.

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