A Letter to SNC Friends from Katie Zanto


Courtesy Katie Zanto

Katie Zanto with her husband and daughter outside their Kings Beach home

Katie Zanto, Contributor

For those of you who haven’t heard, I was in a serious skiing accident on Feb. 12. I fell about 1,000 feet down the third pillar couloir off the Dana Plateau above Lee Vining. On my first or second turn, my downhill ski pre-released. I fell down over the ski, dislocated my knee and tore everything medial. I was unable to self-arrest because I couldn’t roll over the leg, so I tumbled down a long way. It felt like falling off a cliff. My tumbling lasted long enough that I had time to think about dying and was waiting for the black.

I stopped in some soft snow around the couloir’s dog-leg, and I was able to slide down to one of my skiing partners. We tumbled again as we tried to descend the apron to the bottom of the couloir.

Next came an extended rescue operation. The first helicopter to arrive couldn’t land. After many hours and much painful movement down the mountain and in darkness, I was long-lined into a military helicopter and taken to Mammoth Hospital. I had emergency surgery to hold my leg together. The doctors put an external fixator on my leg, two screws into my tibula, and two screws into my femur. I was discharged from Mammoth in order to work with a surgeon in South Lake Tahoe.

We drove home and then went to see the surgeon at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe. The next day I had an 8-hour-plus surgery. I have some of my own ligaments left, plus some cadaver. There is significant cartilage and bone damage, but I am doing remarkably well. My wounds—mostly stitches and holes—are healing well. We are not yet talking much about the long road to movement. The first step is creating some stability, which means (unfortunately) scar tissue in my knee.

Since we are all outdoor junkies, these are my lessons learned:

1) Four people is a good number in the back country. I had amazing partners with me.

2) Bacon jerky could be the most delicious life-saving thing ever. Chocolate is a close second… but definitely lesser.

3) Emergency blankets are more important than I ever imagined. I have never been the patient before, but the heat from these blankets was significant.

4) Verizon Wireless is necessary on the Sierra’s east side.

5) Triple-check bindings before skiing. I don’t know what happened, but it should not have happened. The third pillar couloir was in excellent shape and entirely within my skiing ability.

6) I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, daughter, family, colleagues and friends. An accident like this makes me appreciate all of you.

Mostly I am grateful to be alive, to not be injured worse, and for many other things. Thank you all for your emails, texts and calls. I so appreciate them.