Up at dawn's early light, maybe earlier. On the road for the two- or three-hour drive. You want to be in the parking lot by 8:30, buy the lift ticket, rent the skis and be out on the slopes by 9 to beat the crowd and catch those first few quiet runs.

What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, except that the shop is filled with hundreds of other skiers with the same game plan. You'll be there for an hour, sweating in toasty-warm ski clothes, fighting your way to the boot booth to have the bindings adjusted to your weight and ability. If you're lucky, you'll be on the slopes by 10, maybe 10:30. Not so lucky? They'll be out of your size.

That's one reason to rent skis at home. You and your equipment are ready at the same time. There's a day's grace on either side of the rental. On a weekend, you can get the skis on Friday and take them back Monday.

Local shops, may also run out of sizes, but you can reserve skis, boots and poles a few days to a week in advance at most shops.

Boots are sometimes a problem if you rent at home, because what seemed comfortable in the shop may, after an hour on the slopes, leave you panting with pain. If you've rented at the resort, you can swap them -- if they still have your size. But a little time and effort can avoid pain problems when renting at home: When I rented locally for a trip to Vermont, I went at a slow time, when the rental people could take time to fit me. They suggested I stand around in the boots for a while to be sure; sure enough, within five minutes my instep was throbbing. Another pair of boots, another five minutes and no problems -- and the boots fit all week.

Rental skis at local shops generally range in size from 135 centimeters to 170 -- that's the novice range. A few have 180s to 200s for more advanced skiers or "demo" (you rent a ski you're thinking of buying) programs.

If you're learning by the Graduated Length Method rent at the slopes: They'll start you on 100-cm or 120-cm skis and step you up to longer, heavier, faster skis; at the slopes you can trade up as you go.

As to price, rent-at-home saves you a lot: The daily holiday or weekend rate for skis, boots and poles at resorts is between $10 and $14; at home it's $10.50. Weekend rentals at the slopes are likely to run $20 to $26; at home, most shops have a rate of $19.50. Week-long savings are heftier: I spent $40 for equipment for a seven-day week during the holidays; the price for seven days' holiday or weekend rental where I went was $80.

And when I bought my rentals into the resort's shop for a minor binding adjustment, the repairman looked at the unscathed, well-waxed Dynastar Zephyrs with bindings that had ski brakes and insisted, "These couldn't be regular rental. They must be demos."