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Original Issue


A century ago you might have seen someone like Dr. Wayman R. Spence standing by a buckboard on Main Street, urging passersby to examine his offbeat wares. But over the years the buckboard has given way to the corporation—Spenco, in this case—and packaging has replaced drumming. It's just as well for Spence that these changes have taken place, because what he deals in is not some secret elixir but a facsimile of human fat.

Spence—whose company has successfully marketed knee braces, chafing cream and insoles for runners—has developed a polymer gel that has the consistency of mushy rubber. It is called BioSoft and has been used in hospitals and nursing homes to help immobile patients avoid bedsores. Spence has also discovered a number of sports markets for the phony fat. In the 15 months since he patented it, the physician from Waco, Texas has succored cyclists by stuffing the gel into gloves, palm pads and a seat cushion, which Johnny Carson tested on The Tonight Show.

Spence's latest product, Ski Spats, is offered as a solution to the problem of boot bang—the misery caused by stiff plastic boots. Polypropylene tubes filled with BioSoft buffer ankles, shins and Achilles tendons. Says Spence of the tubes, which are held in place by straps worn under the instep, "There has to be give somewhere, but the boot is inflexible, like a cast. The spats' gel flows to the loose spots without changing volume."

Hotshots who demand instantaneous ski reaction to boot movements might find the spats more of a hindrance than a boon, but for average skiers, especially those who rent boots, the spats should make for a more comfortable run down the slopes. The hardest part may be learning not to squirm while putting something that feels fleshy over your sock.

At $29.95 the price is considerably more than spit for spats. But they're durable and different—a good stocking stuffer for skiers on your Christmas list.