Hardtail v full suspension - It just comes down to price. You are going to get twice the spec on a hardtail for the same dollar. Full suspension is better in every situation, but still may not be the route to go. If your budget is $1600 or under, go hardtail. If over go full suspension. I pick that point because that is where you can get a decent rocky mountain or specialized full susser. Personally I always rec hardtails for people entering the sport because if teaches better riding skills, they are faster, and they are cheaper. Which would you rather be, the guy on the cheap looking hardtail keeping up with the big boys or the obvious newbie puking on the side of the trail next to his $4k bike?
Boutique bikes - If you have to ask people for advice on what to buy, then don't even think of buying a boutique bike (small maker). Buying a bike from a small custom maker is great, but that is for people who know EXACTLY what they want. Maybe you crap cash and this doesn't matter, but custom makers are expensive for what you get.
Bikes for the SE - Its a little mudier here than the west but riding is riding. Buy a bike with a minimum of SRAM x7 or shimano xt. wheels are the most important component, followed by deraileurs, followed by the front fork. plan on buying a better wheelset as your first after bike purchase. Put that wheelset on the bike and put road slicks on the second wheelset. That way you can switch them out and do 100k road rides with the slicks without having to change out tires all the time. Road riding makes you a better biker really fast.
Last thoughts - do a couple races somewhere. Do a XC race and do a marathon race (40+ miles). Have fun on your rides. Don't just bury your head and push til you puke, jump stuff and try impossible climbs and scary little drops. Scare yourself a little but not too much, faces are hard to fix and broken teeth hurt.