You might not like to admit it, but if you're like most skiers, you have, at some point, wiped out so spectacularly that snow got in your nose, your hat wound up over your eyes, and—the worst part—one of your skis shot off through the snow and out of sight. You can squander a lot of precious daylight searching a swath of powder for a wayward ski, only to eventually discover it—if you discover it at all—far from where you started looking.
There is, however, a methodical, efficient way to search for skis lost in the snow, says Dean Cardinale, a snow safety director at Snowbird, Utah, who specializes in avalanche rescue. Snowbird's annual snowfall (some 632 inches last season) is among the highest and driest in the country, and Cardinale has seen it gobble up plenty of skis. "I work here in the summer, too, and I see skis all over the place," he says. To make sure no one finds your orphaned board next July, do what the man says.
The first step, Cardinale says, is to do nothing: "If you just start digging around randomly, you'll get all disoriented. You'll probably start digging in the wrong area."
If you have friends skiing with you, shout or somehow signal to them that you have a situation. The ski could be above you, in which case anyone bringing up the rear can save you from walking back uphill, or below you, where the leader of your pack can hold it while you make your way down on one ski, trying not to look silly.
Mark Your Spot
Think about exactly how and where you fell. "One of the first things we do in avalanche rescue is to mark the last point a lost skier was seen. As soon as you stand up, determine where you were when you fell and whether you were turning right or left," says Cardinale. "That'll tell you where the ski's likely to be. When you find the spot where you fell, mark it by standing your other ski up in the snow. Start your search from there."
Make a Grid
Reach out and stick one of your poles deep into the snow, then pull it back toward you in a straight line. Then cross that line with a horizontal motion, making a grid pattern. Stand in one place, make a grid all around you, then move to the next patch of snow and make another grid. "Be methodical. Once you've covered one area, you know it's not there," Cardinale says. "Move on."
Powder straps—long, brightly-colored ribbons that attach to your ski and unfurl when it goes flying—might be a good idea if you have expensive skis (or even if you don't). "They work," Cardinale says. "If you're not used to skiing in deep snow—like me, I grew up in upstate New York, on ice—you'll be really glad when you're up there and there's your ski, a fluorescent ribbon sticking out of the snow."