FOR MOST people, being at the top of a mountain in the winter sunshine and contemplating a fast - and probably bumpy descent - is not the time or the place to be asking themselves "does my bum look big in this?" Some, on the other hand, wouldn't dip so much as a ski-shod toe in the snow without full make-up and the latest designer mittens. If you want to dazzle the serious snow bunnies, hit the shops before the slopes.

According to Sharon Campbell, of Snow + Rock, there has been a dramatic change in ski fashion recently. "In the past people either bought ski clothing or snowboard gear," she explained. "Now it's all just `freeride' clothing, designed for people who do both."

The first mantra is "layer, layer, layer" - with the latest technical thermalwear, of course - and only if it's in ecru, blue, black or silver.

For specifics, Dave Whitlow of Ellis Brigham suggests that a Bonfire silver jacket (pounds 149.99) and pant (pounds 99.99) set are essential for the season.

Fabric is equally important. Degree 7, for example, has recently launched Outlast fabric, originally designed for NASA, to draw heat away from the body and release it to maintain optimum body temperature. Campbell also points out that "fabrics are now being produced that perform like Goretex but cost pounds 100 less".

The must-have accessory is the big-selling Motorola walkie-talkie (pounds 79.99). They are useful if you're in a group and want to tackle different runs but keep in touch.

For Whitlow, though, the year's cutting-edge piece is the Casio PRT/GP/1 watch (pounds 299.99), which features Global Positioning System.

Before you slam the lid on your suitcase, grab yourself a pair of snowblades - the short skis that Prince William was famously spotted toying with last year. Easier to put on, easier to ski on, easier to use and almost as fast as standard skis, they cost between pounds 99 and pounds 169 per pair. And, finally, if you don't want to end up red-faced in the ski fashion stakes, make sure you pack some sun screen.

For mail order call: Snow + Rock (0845 100 1000) and Ellis Brigham (0161- 834 5555)