CONDITIONS AT UTAH'S DEER VALLEY ski resort were less than ideal. Weeks of no-show snow had left many trails icy, and on the morning of Dec. 28, fog shrouded the mountain. Undeterred, Tony Danza—former star of Taxi and Who's the Boss? and an enthusiastic skier—showed up when the lifts opened.

Hours later, Danza, 42, lay in critical condition at University Hospital in Salt Lake City, 50 miles away, following a high-speed collision with a tree. Because of severe swelling and internal bleeding, doctors had to postpone surgery for two days. Then, in a nearly four-hour procedure, they inserted a rod into the lumbar region of his spine to treat two broken vertebrae; other injuries included six broken ribs and a punctured lung. As of Jan. 5, Danza was in stable condition, with a prognosis for full recovery. Still, according to his publicist, Frank Lieberman, "He's in pain like he's never felt before." Danza's high level of fitness, maintained by four or five workouts a week, may have kept damage to a minimum. Says Lieberman: "The doctor said that if he wasn't in such good physical condition, he might have been paralyzed."

For the Danza family—second wife Tracy, 35, and children Marc, 21, Katie, 6, and Emily, 1—it should have been a fun family ski week at their multilevel stone-and-cedar vacation home. "I can't believe this happened," Tony said later. Although Danza, who just wrapped a feature film called Angels in the Outfield, has a reputation for skiing hard, the actor believes he hit a rock and unavoidably lost control. Danza faces two to three months of recuperation before beginning physical therapy, but he isn't complaining. Says Lieberman: "He's thankful to be alive."