ELDORA -- When Colorado ski coach Richard Rokos saw Katie Hartman catch an edge and fly through the air upside down falling back to earth with a hard landing in Erzurum, Turkey early last year at the World University Games, he thought for a moment she might have died.

Hartman, who is known as an aggressive and talented skier, had survived but she blew out her knee. The snow that caught her ski, tore her anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her left knee, ending her season prematurely. She wasn't able to contribute to the Buffs' national title run.

It wouldn't have been unusual for anyone who doesn't know Hartman to question whether she would ski again.

Those who do know her had no doubt.

"In some cases, it's career ending," Rokos said. "In Katie's case, I think it's actually the fastest recovery I've seen and I've been around this for a long time."

Hartman made one of the fastest comebacks from an ACL tear in CU history. Dr. Eric McCarty cleared her to start skiing again in September and that same day she booked a trip to Oregon where she aimed to get away from family, friends, teammates and coaches and test herself.

All the advice she was getting leaned toward taking it slow, focusing on doing basic ski drills and not pushing too hard to get back on the front of her skis attacking the mountain too quickly. She flew to Oregon, drove to Mount Hood, went to the top of the mountain and started down the only way she knows how.


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"I just ripped off the whole run," she said. "I took a whole run of just ripping turns, didn't even start out slow. I got down to the bottom and I was like, 'I'm going to be OK.' That's when I started doing drills. ... I think that is just what I needed was to go out there and be by myself and see if I still had it."

Eleven months after her injury it is clear she still has a very bright future in the sport she loves.

She won the giant slalom on Friday in the Spencer Nelson Memorial Invitational hosted by CU at Eldora. The three-day alpine event, which culminated Sunday with races having to be postponed because of poor snow conditions, is named after Hartman's former teammate and roommate who died in a hiking accident in August 2010.

Hartman said winning the giant slalom -- Nelson's specialty -- was a particularly special way to begin her comeback in earnest.

"Spence was a tough kid," she said. "He always was the fighter in our group. He was the kid who came down when we were all in sour moods, he was the one who was like, 'Guys, it's no big deal. We got this.' I think having him along side me during most of my rehab and knowing that he had gone through a lot of stuff too before he passed away was just, it was a whole extra umph. It was awesome to have him on my side and I knew he was with me the whole time."

Nelson's parents, Peggy and Peter, were on hand to award special belt buckles they had made for the top three finishers in each race. The buckles were inspired by Spencer being a "cowboy at heart" and were paid for by his parents. They also have established a fund at CU that helps the school host the event.

Hartman earned a buckle with her third-place finish in Saturday's slalom.

"It was special to have her get a belt buckle," Peter Nelson said. "I know that it drove her. You could see the fire in her eye (Saturday). She told Peggy it was her goal to get three belt buckles. Unfortunately we only have two for the races Saturday and Sunday."

Hartman has survived the death of one of her best friends, a horrific crash and knee injury that could have ended her career and she and CU managed to convince the NCAA to give her a year of eligibility back so she can complete her college career this season instead of with that crash.

She is looking ahead to the rest of this season and her future with hope now.

"To come here and perform well in these first races kind of made all that hard work and those terrible days go away," she said.