Types, length, buying and rental
Rock carvings of skis made over 6000 years ago have been found in the Arctic, and the earliest ski found in peat bogs in Sweden, dated back to about 2500 BC. It's mainly in the last five of those 5000 years that ski technology has really come on...
For many young jibbers, this is the only way to go. With the development of terrain parks and halfpipes in most resorts, short twin-tip skis put spins and fakie moves in the reach of everyone.
Big Mountain Skis
This is what the big boys use. These tough skis allow the best to cut through any back country conditions you can find. As fat as they come, these are the best way to take on 'real' off-piste skiing.
Freeride/All Terrain Skis
If you want to be able to head everywhere this is the best ski for you. Mainly for off-piste, these skis are a compromise between side-cut for skiing on the piste, but fat enough to stay up in deep snow. All Terrain skis are easier to handle off piste, but are mainly designed with the piste in mind. Overall much less demanding than freeride skis.
Racing/Skier X Skis
If you're looking for performance at speed, then modern race carving skis are the way to go. Incredibly responsive, but need a good skier sitting on them. Skier X skis are based on the same technology, but have much deeper sidecuts and larger surface area, giving off-piste performance as well
The days of 2m plus skis (unless you're Glenn Plake) have now long gone. It used to be that you started on short skis and progressed to longer sizes as you went on. Now, the length of your ski is going to be determined by the type of skis you're looking for.
Firstly, have a think about whether you actually need to buy skis. If you're only off on one holiday a year, you might find it better value for money to rent skis. Certainly if you are still a beginner or low intermediate you should probably wait until you buy.
Secondly, think about any other possible costs. If you rent skis, your hire shop will service them for you free of charge, and if you do, for whatever reason, trash them - you'll probably be covered under insurance.
However, if you feel the time is right to buy, then test out a few different pairs, or take the advice of someone who knows your skiing (and knows what they are talking about) and then find the best price, either online or offline.
Before you go buying the top of the range bindings have a think about what you really need. The most important factor is that your DIN setting is around the middle of the range on the bindings you get. Concentrate more on how and in how many directions the bindings are designed to release.
Don't be misled - snowblades (formerly known as BigFeet) are not skis. They are useful if you're in a pipe and learning freestyle moves, but otherwise IOHO they are a complete waste of time.
Every skier needs poles and while they are unlikely to affect your skiing much, from an aesthetic point of view, skinny poles with small bases look much cooler than a fat metallic pole with the name of the local ski shop and a huge chunk of plastic around the bottom.
When you return from your winter holiday you should always have your equipment professionally serviced. To make this easier for you and to save you the hassle of getting your equipment home, Edge2Edge have recently introduced a ski & board service, where you can drop your gear off at either Gatwick, Heathrow or Waterloo and have it returned to your home within 14 days.