Plus, by renting while you learn, you'll get a good idea of what kind of skier you want to be. Maybe you'll be happy cruising groomed slopes. If so, an easy-turning ski that also tracks well will be the ticket. On the other hand, perhaps you really want to get good on moguls, or on ungroomed stuff, or some other type of terrain. In that case, a ski tailored to those conditions, or a true "all-mountain" ski, would be right for you.
Once you decide to buy, I think in most cases it's best to purchase a ski tailored for intermediates, but one that has enough slope-handling design to let you advance. That can be a tough callone ski I recommended a few weeks ago was dissed by a reader. So ask around and get some opinions. Heck, ask people on the ski lift about their skis. Myself, I'm a Volant usera shaped ski with a steel skin. A little heavy, but very smooth and they turn like frightened cats. The Volant Vertex ($499; www.volantski.com) is a newer version of my Super S skis and is a good all-mountain ski. But maybe a little much for a beginner.
Of course, boots are as important as skis. Here, too, some experience with different boots will pay off, as you'll learn what brands fit you best. I wear a Tecnica boot that's a de-tuned racing model. A little stiff, but lots of control. The Rival X9 ($399; www.tecnicausa.com) is roughly equal to my four-year-old boots.
So there you go. I hope to get to Hood myself this winter. Maybe we'll share a lift ride!