The Daily Mail International Ski Show opens this morning at Olympia in London and runs until 6 November. Do you care? I guess not. Should you care?

I am not at all sure. Before I became professionally involved in skiing, it would never have occurred to me to troop along to a London exhibition hall in the autumn in order to . . . well, in order to do what?

Mainly to shop, and to shop around. And I do not just mean window-shop around. This year, for the first time, I went to the smaller sister of the Olympia exhibition, held two weeks ago at the National Exhibition Centre outside Birmingham. On the opening day, at least, it was quite striking that most of the people returning to the car park were burdened by enormous plastic bags bursting with ski suits and ski boots (though noticeably not by skis).

Ski shows are dominated by ski gear. On the dry slope at the heart of the show, there will be acrobatic displays by athletic skiers dressed in chain-store ski clothes. More importantly, by far the largest stands at these shows belong to retailers.

'Stands' is not really the right word. A stand is a quiet little area with a bowl of nibbles and (if you are lucky) an ice bucket containing a palatable refreshment. Tour operators and resort tourist offices have stands. What the big retailers do at the ski shows is create entire shops - often more extensive than the premises in which they normally do business.

For skiing beginners, these opportunities to buy gear are rather dangerous - especially in the heady atmosphere of an exhibition, with its seize-the- moment special-offer pressures. I am not for a moment suggesting that my friends in equipment retailing would even think of selling inappropriate equipment to a beginner. But some of the people in the retail trade will sell anything to anyone with a functioning credit card.

So, beginners, hear this. By all means buy gloves, sunglasses and goggles, because they are essentially consumables. Buy lip salve and sun cream. If you need a ski jacket, buy one that you can see yourself wearing on the Number 9 bus, so that you get some return on your investment if your first ski holiday turns out to be your last. If you cannot beg, borrow or steal some ski pants to go with the jacket, buy some of those, too.

But do not buy a sexy one-piece ski suit (what are you going to do with it if you find you do not like skiing?). And do not even think about buying skis (for which you should probably wait until about year five) or boots (for which you should probably wait until about year three).

For non-beginners, having a handful of leading retailers under one roof presents a great opportunity to evaluate what they have to offer without spending days trudging from shop to shop. In the course of half a day, you should be able to try on every model of every leading brand of boot, for example, or to see the latest styles from all the clothing manufacturers. If you are serious about choosing boots, time it right: avoid weekends and go early in the day.

You can do things other than shopping at ski shows. More than a few stands are taken by tour operators and, even if you learn nothing else, the way the stand is run may give you an insight into the way the operator's holidays are run. In the case of smaller operators, there is a good chance you will meet the proprietor, which is often illuminating. You will certainly come upon operators you have not encountered before, and you will be able to pick up lots of brochures that are otherwise available only by post.

Resort and national tourist offices have stands, too. In principle, these are handy for picking up piste maps of the resorts you are interested in and for investigating particular aspects - kindergarten arrangements, opening hours of the ice-rink, availability of off- piste guides from the ski school. But details like this are not always at the fingertips of the stand personnel, and the list of resorts attending is hardly comprehensive.

You will also find stands occupied by people who simply perceive skiers as a receptive market. People selling, or at least promoting, booze, mobile phones, mountain bikes, cars, luggage, whatever. One thing I can heartily recommend is the creche run by Ski Hillwood - one of the ever-growing band of tour operators who have made child care a key part of their pitch. At the show, as in the Alps, their nannies will look after the children while parents enjoy a bit of freedom.

The Daily Mail International Ski Show is open from 10am-7pm weekends, 11.30am-9.30pm weekdays; entry pounds 7, senior citizens and under-16s pounds 4, under-fives free.

Chris Gill's guide to ski resorts, Where to Ski, is available to Independent readers at a saving of pounds 1 on the bookshop price. Send a cheque for pounds 13.99 (p & p inclusive) to: Norton Wood Publishing, The Old Forge, Norton St Philip, Bath, Avon BA3 6LW.