Whether you've just started skiing or you've been tearing up the slopes for years, you may be asking yourself, "Should I continue to rent ski equipment, or is it finally time to buy my own?" Good question. There are plenty of advantages to both.

One of the first things to consider before buying new equipment is how many times you expect to ski this season. You're probably better off renting equipment if the answer is fewer than 10 days. Beginners rental packages that include skis, boots, and poles start as low as $25 a day and rarely cost more than $50, even for expensive performance or demo skis. You could rent all your gear for about $175 if you're only going to ski one week this season.

Save money by taking advantage of special packages offered by hotels, resorts, and ski schools. Beginning skiers, for example, can buy three days of rentals, lift tickets, and ski school lessons for $195 at one popular Rocky Mountain destination. Another good reason to rent skis is based on technology. Skis can change dramatically from one year to the next. What you buy today will probably be obsolete in a few years. Why not ski on the best, year in and year out?

If you do decide to rent your ski equipment, it's a good idea to reserve it ahead of time. That's especially advisable if you're skiing over the Christmas holidays or other peak periods. You can pick your equipment up at the resort this way, instead of lugging your skis, boots, and poles through the airport or on your car's rooftop.

Some shops will even arrange to have your gear waiting for you in your hotel room when you arrive. Another good reason to rent your equipment at the resort instead of getting it at home is equipment failure. It happens. You can easily exchange them for a new pair this way if anything goes wrong with your skis.

The time to start thinking about buying your own equipment is when you ski more than two weeks every ski season and when you find that you enjoy skiing on a particular type of ski - perhaps a pair that isn't typically available in rental shops. You may also discover that you need to make special adjustments to your skis and bindings. You can custom tune your own skis, based on the way you like to ski.

The downside to owning your own ski equipment is the responsibility of taking care of it. You'll only ski as well as your equipment is maintained.

Owning your own skis means lugging them through the airport. More and more airlines now charge extra for ski and boot carriers that are checked as baggage. It means buying extra carrying cases because you can't check-in your skis and boots unless they're inside regulation cases. That will cost you an extra $100 to $200.

You'll also need to maintain your equipment on your own dime. You'll either need to tune your own skis or pay to have someone else do it for you. Professional ski tuners charge anywhere from $25 to $75 to sharpen your edges, patch nicks and dings in the bases, and wax the bases. You might need to have your skis tuned several times a season, depending on how much you ski.

Then there's the issue of worrying about ski theft. It could spell the end of your vacation, filling out police and insurance reports, not to mention the cost of buying new equipment, if your equipment is stolen.

The best time to buy new ski equipment, if you do decide to take the plunge, is in late winter or early fall. Ski shops offer incredible deals on their current year's equipment to clear out summer inventory and to make room for next year's models.

You may want to wait until the early fall to buy your equipment if saving money isn't your top priority and you want to have the coolest gear on the market. You can take advantage of the new models that have just been released to the public then. Another affordable option is to buy used or "demo" equipment. Most ski shops sell off their fleet of rental and demo equipment every season. You could get lucky and end up snagging a pair of top of the line skis or boots that have only been used a few times.

Wherever you buy your equipment, make sure that the shop offers extended warranties and have facilities to repair whatever you buy. Avoid buying ski equipment from large retail stores that also sell tires, kitchen products, or other items. Always buy ski equipment from ski and outdoor stores that focus on athletic equipment.