Winter 1965, in Champion, Pennsylvania. Seven Springs' lodge was noisily under construction, the slopes were mud and the skeet shooters nearly outnumbered the skiers. In the dreary downpour I fell off the rope tow 15 times, hated my father's prowess at snowplow turns, hated the thick layers of clothes cramping my style as I lunged once again into the mud at the base of the rope tow. I was hooked. In the good old pain-racked days, skiing meant enduring a cold hell, with rope burns from the miserable inner- and outer-boot laces, and shin bites from bending into new boots. But it was easier then, too: Residents of the mild mid-Atlantic states hadn't yet taken to the sport in droves. There weren't six types of glove liners to choose from, and when down jackets were in stock they were still affordable. Charnita, now Liberty, was about to open and lift tickets were six bucks (stapled on by attendants, not peel-and- stick'em), Snowshoe wasn't on the drawing board, and Blue Knob's barracks -- now a lodge -- sheltered mice as well as men. Today the sport is a high-fashion, light- weight parade of sophisticated schussers. This year's gear is only distantly related to the wooden slats with cable bindings, leather "safety" straps and men's thermal underwear of our debut. (In 1965 you couldn't find little girls' sizes). Ten-year-old to his father at Ski Roundtop: "Dad, did you bring the silicone spray?" Sharp consumers, these kids, who never had to snap a cable binding shut, never got smacked in the temple by a windmilling ski dangling from a "safety strap." Among this year's gear and garb offerings are goggles with built-in defrosters guaranteed to give you a migraine, if the $65 price tag hasn't already, and a $300 pair of heated boots with gaudy battery packs on the back. Plastic rear-entry one-buckle boots look like NASA models, ski brakes have replaced the old misnamed safety straps, and for some reason the whole ensemble is now bullet-proof. The year's class item is a $525 set of Lacroix skis, imported from France in limited numbers. They're handmade, with a soft core of the same fibrous material used in bullet-proof vests -- a soft-flexing, tough- minded, not-bad-looking ski. Throw them in the cargo compartment in a $180 ski bag, made of "bullet-proof, anti-ballistic material," according to Ski Chalet manager Freed Friedrichsen, and you're set for the war zone. This year's priciest bindings go for $225, five times the clamps I started with. But next year, Friedrichsen says, retailers are expecting to carry an electronic digital doo- dah binding for about $300. Presumably it will calculate the correct setting according to your height, weight and bank balance. One $50 pair of goggles has no windshield wipers or defogger, but a lens that "can withstand the impact of a .22 bullet," offers a salesman at Ski Haus in Rockville -- a must in case of snipers in the evergreens. And there's Velcro, Velcro everywhere, on boot straps, sports wallets, carrying pouches. Newest look on the slopes: skiing plugged in to a Walkman. No evidence of punk ski attire yet. The very coolest, best skier spotted lately wore gas-station attendant coveralls. Sure, corduroy Swiss-style knickers are still available. And you can find a leather wine pouch just like those the pioneers in the Alps used. But with glowing orange plastic wraparound boots and slick matching bib, the look's not rustic anymore: It's Icy Moon-walk. Still, once you're hooked, there's no turning back. Point those tips downhill and bend your knees.