I took the plung to buy equipment this year (I ski about 17 days a year). My ability level at the beggining of the season when I bought my equipment was intermediate - I could do the whole mountaint at places like wintergreen, whitetail, and liberty (crappy mid-atlantic resorts) but wasn't trully carving my turns as much as I thought I was and had no idea how to do moguls. I got boots above my ability level (2004 Nodica Beasts, $300 in the barking bear ski forum, advanced/expert category) which assuming my feet don't start growing (haven't grown for two years) should last me a VERY long time. This made the most difference in my skiing and I highly recommend you get your own boots. I also use my orthodics for my shoes in the boots when I ski, one day I forgot to put them in and what a difference orthodics make, especially if you have foot and knee problems. As for skis, I got skis with not much room to grow (intermediate carver) - 2003 K2 Escape 5500 w/ Marker M5.2, but they also ended up being $80 on ebay. However, they were a great ski to master carving with. In my opinoin, unless you're really advanced, racing, or have extra money lieing around pick up the cheapest poles you can find, I got a pair of scott synergy poles at ski chalet for $30. So far in the season, my ability has improved tremendously, I can carve on pretty much everthing except ice sheets, and can actually do mogul runs correctly. I was at Mont Tremblant last weekend, and was rather proud of myself that my skiing had improved enought this season to do all the blacks and most of the double blacks they had open quite comfortably. Also think about shopping for the stuff during the summer, that when I got all my gear, and it was significantly cheaper then the prices I see now. Look around in forums, and ebay and consider buying used, I got everything but my poles used. Just remember with boots fit is most important, so even if you don't plan to buy from the local shop, make sure you try a boot on before your buy it.