Whatever you buy for a child today will be too small next year.

There are several ways to reduce the credit card cramps that come from buying everything new each season:

If your children will ski only a few days each winter, keep on renting.

However, if skiing is definitely a family preoccupation, consider seasonal rentals. Increasingly popular is a plan that allows parents to rent new equipment for an entire season then, for a reasonable fee, buy the skis and boots when the winter ends.

If you’re buying used boots, skis, and bindings, there’s only one good source: a reputable ski shop that not only sells its rentals from last season, but also has the facilities to repair and test them.

Be cautious, and dubious, about buying from friends or at used-ski sales. Always have used equipment checked by an expert, even if it’s a hand-me-down that big brother used a couple years ago. A good ski shop will do this, though it may charge a small fee.

Bindings, whether new or used, must be carefully adjusted for the child’s weight and skiing level. Since a youngster can move from a nervous green-slope skier to a sturdy skier on the blues, plus add a couple inches and a chunk of pounds, in one season, bindings should be recalibrated about midway through the winter.

Inevitably, questions arise about the quality, length, and type of ski to buy for a growing child, or the safety of a particular binding. Not too many years ago quality was a major concern, because few manufacturers produced anything for children but what could best be described as cosmetically attractive junk. Today there’s no need for even a hint of concern about the quality of boots, bindings, and skis.

However, you and the youngster alike may wonder whether you should buy a ski with a soft or firm flex, and how long it should be. While it’s simple to come up with formulas - soft-flex skis 6 inches longer than
the child is tall for the novice, or kid bindings until a youngster weighs 75 pounds - these are, at best, semiguesses. Go to the experts for advice: ski school instructors or the experienced personnel at a reputable ski shop, whether at the resort or in your home town.

When buying, heed the advice you’ll find in annual summaries of new skis, boots, and bindings for kids in the major ski publications.

Finally, there’s the question whether or not young skiers should wear helmets. The obvious answer is: Of course. But what’s not quite so obvious is that medical experts aren’t convinced that helmets help, or hurt. As one medical authority expressed it: If a youngster suffers an accident involving his or her head, a helmet can prevent major injury. Another, however, had a warning: Large-sized helmets obscure the child’s vision and can end up causing more injuries than they prevent.

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