One slight change here or there, and Reid Pletcher's life could have taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

On May 26, Pletcher was rock climbing in Boulder Canyon when he fell 30 feet and landed on his neck.

"I hit the road and I fractured my skull in two places and both wrists," said Pletcher, who two months earlier helped the Colorado ski team to a national title by winning an individual nordic title of his own.

The fall left him with broken bones, cuts and bruises, but also some brain trauma.

Still, Pletcher considers himself "extremely lucky." He very easily could have wound up a quadriplegic, or worse.

"The whole situation was pretty lucky," he said. "The way I landed, I should have broken my neck. I landed on my neck, but because the ground was tilted, I landed flatter. And because I hit my wrist, that took pressure off my spine."

On Monday, Pletcher and some of his teammates returned to Boulder after competing in the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Rumford, Maine. On Friday, Pletcher and the rest of the nordic team will be at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs for the first nordic event of the college season.

"A lot of people felt like they were unsure if he would be able to even ski this year," said CU nordic coach Bruce Cranmer.

That was Pletcher's first concern when he woke up in a hospital bed and got a grasp of what happened. Two months later, though, he was training normally.

"It could have been the worst case scenario," he said.


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"I'm back competing on the college scene and just finishing U.S. nationals. As far as lucky goes, it's about as lucky as it gets."

There are still lingering affects, though. Pletcher's physical abilities were not hampered by the fall, but his mental ability was. He lost some of his memory. He also lost some vocabulary. A few months ago, had someone put a fork in front of Pletcher, he could describe what the utensil was used for, but couldn't come up with the word "fork."

"It's coming back pretty solid," he said. "I would guess I'm about 99 percent back."

He also lost his ability to smell things -- and that has not returned.

As he looks forward, Pletcher is unsure of what to expect on the ski trails. He is the defended national champion in classic nordic skiing, but to expect him to defend that title might be a bit much, he said.

"I don't really have much expectations for myself," he said. "It would be unrealistic for me, with my injury, to be back in top form. My goal right now is just to be top 10 and help the team out."

During the Thanksgiving break, he did win the first national level race of his ski career, but that was in a sprint.

"That showed me that I was back in form, at least in sprinting," he said.

College skiing centers more on distance races, though, and this past weekend was just the second time Pletcher has competed in a distance race since his accident.

"I just need to do more distance races to get a good idea of where I'm at," he said. "Based off that result (during Thanksgiving), that showed me I could be in the top end this year.

I think I could do it, but I don't put pressure on it."

Getting Started

Cranmer is eager to get started with CU's nordic season.

In addition to Pletcher, the Buffs return another former national champ, senior Vegard Kjoelhamar. Ian Mallams is also a top-notch skier and newcomer Rune Oedegaard, from Norway, may wind up as the best of the bunch.

On the women's side, Eliska Hajkova and Joanne Reid are two of the best skiers in the country, and Marianne Madsen is right there with them.

"I hope for similar results (as last year)," Cranmer sad. "It's always hard to know from year to year."

Slalom races rescheduled

The slalom races of the University of Colorado/Spencer Nelson Memorial Invitational have been rescheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Breckenridge.

The races originally were to take place Sunday at the Eldora Mountain Resort, CU's home course, but were cancelled due to the unfavorable conditions.

The rescheduled races will be part of the Colorado Ski Cup Surefoot series in Breckenridge with the women racing Wednesday at 1 p.m. and the men following suit Thursday at the same time.

Around the corner

Basketball is in the spotlight at CU these days, but within the next few weeks, the school's athletic department will be a busy place.

In addition to the ski team starting up its season, the tennis and track and field squads begin later this month. The first week of February will see the men's and women's golf teams kick off their seasons.