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I am a relative newbie to alpine skiing, and you folks seem to have tons of "tribal knowledge" that I would like to take advantage of.  I have read through quite a few threads on all-mountain skis and boot fitting.  Great info on this forum.  Warning, longish post ahead...


A little background: I have done lots of cross-country skiing (raced in high school and college) and I caught the downhill bug last year.  My kids love to snowboard and ski, and my daughter needed a ski buddy/chaperone last year.  I had only downhill skied a few times, but on the spur of the moment (unencumbered by my usual thorough pre-purchase analysis) I bought some skis and boots at a ski swap last fall.  I had a great time getting the hang of things on the local hills near Minneapolis where we live.  I skied about 15 days last winter, including one nice spring day on the Zugspitze near Garmisch in the Alps (gotta love having an extra day on a business trip to Munich).


I think my current gear is holding back my progress a bit.  I am also a bit of a gearhead (and a mechanical engineer) so of course I want some new toys.  The ski swap purchase included new (old stock) Rossignol Cobra 90 skis (162cm, 112-65-95) with Marker EPS 10 bindings, and Tecnica Mega-X boots size 31.0.  The skis generally feel OK to me (without much to compare to), but the boots are way too big.  At the swap, a local ski shop employee was helping folks, and he either did not know what he was doing, or knowingly put me in a huge boot just to sell something.  


I am 46, 5' 11", and ~192 lbs.  I would classify myself as "aspiring" intermediate level (can ski all the black diamond runs on the local hills, which I am sure don't measure up to black diamonds on real mountains).  I enjoy skiing pretty fast, and carving turns, but I am not super aggressive.  I would like to improve my skills, and made good progress last year with some tips from a friend.  I mostly ski on the little hills around Minneapolis, but hope to take at least one trip a year to real mountains.


So, I am looking for advice in two areas:

1.  Boots:  

I have been to two highly recommended boot fitting shops around here.  At Pierce Skate and Ski, one of their guys recommended the Tecnica Inferno Blaze in a 28.5.  He shell-fit me in two Tecnicas and one Nordica.  The Infernos felt very good, much better than my current boots (three shell sizes smaller!).  My problem is that I can't really afford the asking price of $575 at the moment.  I told the boot-fitter that, and he pretty much said they did not have anything that he thought would work for me in a lower price-point, primarily due to last width being higher in the lower priced boots.  


I also went to Hoigaards and asked if they had any lower priced boots that might work for me.  They did a quick shell-fit for me in a Tecnica Mega 6 (28.5, ), and a Nordica Hot Rod6.5 (29.0).  The Tecnicas were probably the right size, but had a couple of pinchy spots.  The Nordicas felt OK, not as good as the Infernos.


So, my question is can I expect to find a decent boot to fit my "aspiring intermediate" level within my budget (~$350 tops)?  I am worried that the budget boots are too soft or too wide.



2.  Skis:

I would also like to have some better skis.  They would mostly be used locally (typically harder snow & groomers), but I would like them to also work out West on bigger terrain and softer snow.  I was thinking an all-mountain ski with 70-80mm waist.  A friend recommended something like a K2 Apache Recon.  Since I am on a budget I am looking for used stuff.  


I actually picked up some 2004 Elan M666 (176cm) off craigslist for $135 today. They have a few dings on top, and need a tune to clean off a bit of rust on the edges, but the bases look great.  Have not tried them yet.  There are also some 2005 Stockli Snakes (170cm) available near me for ~$180.  I am considering buying those too and seeing which I like better, then selling the loser.


So, my question here is do you think the Elan's are appropriate for my level and intended use, or would you recommend looking for something else (the Stocklis or another ski)?


Thanks for your help,