There are ways to be cost-conscious while getting good gear for your children. One thing we all need to remember, though, is that kids grow. Be prepared to adjust for that growth, which often can make renting a better option than buying.

Most important is that the gear must fit correctly. Chuck O'Connell manages a ski shop in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He's a father of four skiing children. Chuck says it is a mistake to buy it too big, to try to get a few years out of your child's gear. "If appropriately sized this year, it won't fit next year. Kids need new gear every year because they grow."

Look for big summer and fall tent sales at your favorite resort or your local shop if you are planning to buy. You'll get the best deals that way. End-of-season sales in late March and early April are also typically 50 percent off because merchants don't want to store last year's gear all summer. "The last weeks that the resorts are open are often times when you'll find the great deals," says O'Connell.

Another way to shop is to find a local ski swap. These are held at resorts across the country, typically in the fall, before the mountain opens, many times as a fundraiser for the local ski club. Some of the large consumer ski shows in major cities feature swaps and sales.

Some swaps also bring in vendors selling new gear at discounted prices. Know what you are looking for if you go to a swap. Bring the kids and have them try on boots. Know in advance what size ski, board, or pole you need. Do your homework ahead of time.

Sometimes you can get rid of your old gear at the same time. Price it to sell and you'll make some money toward the new equipment. Ski swaps typically sell clothes, boots, skis and snowboards, poles, and helmets in all sizes. You may find a good assortment of cross-country, alpine, snowboard, and Telemark gear.

Here's a word of caution: Getting the right boots when shopping for the kids. O'Connell says it is very important that big kids avoid small adult boots. "Even though it fits the foot, it is proportionately too large for the child's body. The boot will be too stiff and come too far up the leg."

How do you know if your child needs poles? Stratton Mountain's Alison Cummings says that children's ski school generally introduces poles when a child can make a parallel turn. "By the time they are doing parallel turns, those turns have become a habitual movement, and they're not thinking about what they're doing with their hands and feet. Then they can concentrate on what to do with their arms."

Don't get skis that are too long either. Blair Seymour of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club says it's too difficult to turn long skis. "Skis on a beginner should be about chest high; otherwise, skis should be between nose and chin," she says.

Renting equipment keeps things really simple. Your local ski shops are a great option because you can get to know the shop and trust the employees and owners.

You also can rent at the ski area, whether it's a local or destination resort. Some families find this approach better than hauling a bunch of ski and snowboard gear through an airport, paying extra for the luggage (the new airline mantra), or even trudging through the parking lots to the lifts or lodge.

Tiffany Good manages a ski shop in Snowbird, Utah, and says it's much easier to rent locally, especially from a shop at the base area. "Kids lugging stuff around is not fun," Tiffany says. "Dad ends up carrying everything. Renting at the base is very convenient, especially when it is across from the tram or lifts. It's just a lot easier for families. Then you can all head out on the mountain together. The shop can repair or exchange equipment if any problems develop."

Perhaps yours is one of those lucky families who plan to take several trips to the mountains in the winter, or who have become weekend warriors. Ask your favorite local ski shop if they offer a seasonal rental. It is absolutely the best way to go for a family with growing kids.

The equipment is typically new, generic, and broader based. The price will likely be in the $150 range for the entire season, depending on whether the gear is new or used. Then you have the gear ready for whenever you go to the mountains, and you can turn it back when the snow melts.