I had heard about the possibility of a ski becoming lost in deep powder after a fall, but never thought too much about it until it happened to me.
While skiing at Snowbird, Utah after a 14" spring snowfall of pretty dry powder I blew out of both skis. The first ski caught on the uphill side of a single file hard packed traverse, released, and stayed put.
The fall flipped me downhill on the steep slope and immediately yanked off my other ski. I remember seeing that ski dive under the powder as I careened down the slope.
I self=arrested about 30 feet below the traverse trail. My friend, still above me, picked up my first errant ski and one pole, but didn't see any visible sign of my other ski.
Being a Snowbird local he knew the real possibility of that pilot less ski continuing to submarine through the powder until the snowpack below the powder snagged the brakes or until it ran out of speed-inducing vertical and then stopped.
My friend knew the "lost ski drill" and here are the best sequential steps to take if you ever lose a ski in powder snow.
Get Safe and Sound
After the fall make sure you or are not physically hurt - worry about hurt pride later - and are not in danger of tumbling further down the slope. If you're not hurt, take some deep breathes and look around to orient yourself as to where you fell and where you stopped.
Think back to when you fell - were you skiing on the fall line, or were you traversing? This will give you a good starting point to search from and then down. I.e. if you look up to where you fell and you were going left to right it is a good bet the ski continued right or turned down the fall line.
Determine Starting Point
Work back to where you fell - poke around as you go - you may get lucky right off. Mark where you fell with a pole or the one ski you have if you didn't lose both! As you, and hopefully a buddy or two start searching if you don't mark the spot of your fall you'll lose sight of it as you trample and posthole around.
Search the Clock
Using your pole or one ski start from the point you fell - start at noon, move toward 1 pm, then 2 pm then 3 pm scraping uphill, downhill and across hill as far as you can reach. Turn in a small circle until you make it back to noon. Remember to check a little above the point of falling as your ski just may have stopped on release but you impacted further down.
Move To Momentum
Move around the clock in the direction you were skiing and restart scraping a circle, overlapping a little on the first circle.
Continue Searching Downward - Slowly
Walking and post holing in deep powder, especially at elevation can be quickly tiring so take it slow.
Know When to Quit
As much as you like your lost ski there is a point where you may have to give up the search. remember you are on a mountain presumably a good distance from the bottom and in deep snow. You need to get safely down in daylight - period.
Call the Ski Patrol
The Ski Patrol doesn't have the time to search for your ski. However, it is a good bet that in powder country the mountain's Ski Patrol has a few Demo skis of varying length with adjustable bindings available for just such circumstances.
They can bring you a ski, set it to your boot size, and assist you to ski down if you are alone. If a spare ski is not an option, the Ski Patrol will get you down via downloading or toboggan if necessary.
Leave Your Contact Information
Find out from the Ski Patrol what office you should report the location of your fall, the make and model of the lost ski and your contact information. There is a 99% chance that at some point your ski will be found.
Either somebody will find it while skiing or it will surface in the melt out. Be sure to mention that you will be responsible for any shipping charges should you want your ski back.
At Snowbird, I gave up the search after an hour or so and the Snowbird Patrol did have a ski available. I skied down and gave the necessary contact information to the Snowbird administration people. Fortunately the very next day someone found my ski and turned it in. Snowbird personnel contacted me and I went home with both skis.
Get a "Powder Leash or Cord"
As I found out, losing a ski in powder snow is not uncommon, but there is a good and cheap way to be sure it doesn't happen to you. Snow Sport stores and online outfitters in powder country sell "Powder Cords" or Powder Leashes." These are relatively inexpensive, long brightly colored ribbons that attach to the ski bindings and tuck into your pant leg gaiter, or into a special pouch which is commercially available.If you fall in powder and your ski takes off it pulls out the ribbon. since the ribbon tends to 'float' in the powder you can then easily find the ribbon and reel in your ski.
I've already invested in a pair of "Powder Cords" and I'll be wearing them whenever I ski in relatively deep powder.