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“I think physics is God’s language,” says actionwear designer Kurt Gray. And whether or not you know a quark from a quasar, if you’re a skier you know that when you stand at the top of a mountain there’s only one way to go-down. Clearly, Sir Isaac Newton knew whereof he spoke.

The innovators profiled here, three Americans and two Europeans, are not, technically, physicists-or even, strictly speaking, scientists-but engineers, who aim to translate God’s language into practical improvements in all areas of equipment design, from boots and bindings to apparel and skis. Some were themselves world-class skiers, others lifelong enthusiasts. All would agree that scientific theory is only a starting point, and that the only lab that really matters is the mountain.

Of course, at the start of the 21st century, this whole business can get pretty complicated. But fear not: Even though their favorite word is “basically”-which is usually a sure sign that what follows will be anything but basic-they’re used to explaining what they do to the rest of us. We are, after all, their lab rats.

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