Are you just starting out or have you've been dancing through mid-thigh drifts of powder for years? Skiers of all levels have quickly learned the right choice in skis can make or break their vacation experience. Ski manufacturers also have come to realize there are as many different types of skiers as there are ways to ski the mountain, so they've come up with an almost limitless number of models, shapes, sizes, and colors - even skis built specifically for women. But how do you choose which ski is right for you?

The first step is to honestly assess your skiing. Do you enjoy cruising corduroy-smooth blue runs, or plunging down 45-degree couloirs peppered with rocks and bumps? How fit are you? Regardless of age, your skiing style will dictate what type of ski will best fit your needs. Finally, does your budget allow for several pairs of skis or will one have to do under all types of conditions?

There are essentially three types of skiers buying skis. Recreational skiers are skiers who get up on the mountain several times a season - maybe not even every year. Intermediate skiers are those who enjoy skiing and will ski as much as their sick days and wallets will let them. Advanced and professional skiers are those who easily log more than 100 ski days a year. They either live near a ski area or have a job on the mountain that allows them to ski almost every day.

Recreational skiers should look for the best equipment they can buy, without taking out a second mortgage on their home - skis that are forgiving but can grow with them over the next several years, helping them to improve. Recreational skis have medium flex patterns, short to medium lengths (somewhere between their collar bones and chin when stood on their ends), and 70 to 80 cm ski widths under foot are good choices and will allow them to ski almost every type of terrain they'll encounter.

Intermediate skiers are athletes that have skied for five or six years, gotten a taste of skiing off-piste, through the trees, and possibly even won a couple of Nastar medals. They're very capable skiers but not nearly as accomplished as they'd like to be. Good ski lengths for intermediates skiers depend on their weight, athleticism, and the types of terrain they enjoy - which is usually a little of everything. Because of their strength, they can usually handle a slightly longer ski with a wood core, more torsional rigidity and greater sidecut in the ski's design.

Advanced skiers have probably been skiing all their lives and at 11 or 12 years old, are as comfortable on the double-black runs as they are off piste. Advanced skiers will often opt for a much wider ski that can handle all types of terrain and snow conditions. They'll ski on longer skis because they're more interested in plowing through crud than they are making perfect carved turns on groomed runs on the front of the mountain.

After you've decided on the general classification of the ski, take a few out for a spin. Look for how differently various lengths of the same ski handle under a variety of conditions. Pay attention to the sidecut of the ski, or how quickly it turns. Any given ski will handle differently at various lengths, so try them all under every type of snow condition available to you.

In the end, unless you have unlimited funds, you'll probably end up settling on the one ski that meets most of your needs, but not all. That's OK. You can buy that other pair next season.