Now, not next year, is the time to buy

If there's a possibility you'll be in the market for new ski gear next season , you could save considerably by shopping around now. Ski shops in many parts of the country have had tough years. Nowhere is this truer than in the snow-starved East, but it's also a fact of life in the Midwest and parts of the West. Many shops came into the winter with heavy inventories, and they are going out the same way.

Because there is a lot of stock around, ski shops generally are expected to be very cautious in buying 1981 gear. Instead, a lot of them intend to take this year's skis, which they have been selling at a discount in order to raise cash, and mark them back up at or near full price next season.

Therefore, wise shoppers will be looking for bargains now. Two points to keep in mind:

Because high-performance skis have sold relatively well, they are less likely to be found carrying big discounts. Rather, it is the lower- priced recreational skis that often have gone begging. These are the models for novice and casual weekened skiers and they are likely to be the ones with the biggest discounts right now.

If you're not sure what kind of ski you want, now is also a good time to check out two or three "demos," or demonstration models, at a local or ski area shop. Take a few runs on different kinds of skis, and you'll be better equipped to pick a pair that suits your style and budget. Generally, shops deduct demo rental fees from the price of a purchase.

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