DID IT AGAIN, didn't you? Came home tired from your last ski trip, and just stuffed your gear in the basement, behind the full-length self-portrait of Old Uncle Bob. Couple a days to catch up on things around the house and then you'd clean those suckers right up. Sometime in March, wasn't it? Uh, uh. And now it's what? -- the day after Thanksgiving? The new season's just around the bend, and your equipment still sports bits of Blue Knob.

Well, we're going to help you out. But first there'll be a little lecture from Harold Schoenhaar, alpine director for the U.S. Ski Team:

For maximum performance and safety, ski gear should be carefully checked and cleaned in the spring before storing for the summer. "The grease left on the base of the skis will cause it to oxidize if left on all summer," says Schoenhaar, "and grease and dirt may damage the bindings. If you wait till the fall to clean your skis, then you don't have good skis anymore. Maybe ski sellers like that."

If you know you can't get your act together or simply don't feel competent to maintain your own skis, Schoenhaar says, "Give the equipment to a shop. They're professionals; they know what to do." A full pre-season tune-up cost $20 to $30, and it's worth it for many people, he says.

Okay, lecture's over. If you're ready to get cracking on your own, here's what Schoenhaar suggests:

Begin whipping your gear into shape by cleaning everything thoroughly with a mild detergent. Pay particular attention to the bases of the skis -- to get rid of all the dirt and grime and to spot scratches that need repair.

To avoid scratching the soft surface as you remove most of the old wax on the base, use a flat-edged steel scraper that's at least half again as wide as the ski. Secure the ski in a vise, or rest the tail on the ground and the upper part on your shoulder. Using long strokes, scrape off any remaining wax and dirt. Next, using emery paper wrapped around a wood block or a file, sand the base until it looks slightly gray. When the base is too shiny, says Schoenhaar, that means there's a buildup of grease. And that's not good.

Finally, use a wax remover, which can be bought at any ski shop, to clean out the many pores in the base.

Then it's time to hot-wax the base, using either a brush or iron. Waxing isn't very difficult. There are books and pamphlets to guide you. And, in general, most ski shops are more than willing to give advice on ski care. But, again, Schoenhaar suggests that if you're unsure about what to do, give the job to a shop.

The bindings, being the safety link in your gear, also require special attention. After cleaning, loosen and tighten the bindings three or four times to ensure that the springs within still work. You'll notice the tension increase and decrease, if your bindings are not completely worn out. They should be lightly lubricated with household oil or silicon, particularly at season's end to inhibit rust. Adjusting your bindings for the slopes at the beginning of each season is one of the most important things you must attend to. Schoenhaar emphasizes: "Don't do it yourself. Let an expert with the proper equipment do it unless you want a broken leg." Charges at area ski shops run from $7.50 to around $12.

While ski boots are very resilient, they still need some care. After cleaning them, check for broken buckles, torn linings and other problems that might arise from a tough season on the slopes. Often if something on a boot is broken, you'll have no choice but to take it to a shop.

Come next spring, store your gear where it's neither too humid nor too dry -- and somewhere out of range of Junior's Big Wheel and the lawnmower (yeah, the one you were going to clean and oil when you put it away in October). Leave the linings in the boots but be sure they're dry. Keep the pole tips covered with tape or placed so they're not resting on the ground. That's to keep them sharp for those icy days.

And remember Schoenhaar's parting words of advice on maintaining your equipment: "If you do it in the springtime, it takes half the time and half the effort."