Snow Shoveling 101: advice and gear


By Kim Cook

Although much of the country has been relatively flake-free this winter, snow removal woes are just one storm away.

So here are some strategies, and the latest tools.

First, have a plan before the flakes start falling. If you’re not physically up to shoveling, arrange for a plowing service or enlist some kids to at least do your walkways; many communities mandate that sidewalks be cleared within 24 hours of a storm.

If you are taking on the snow yourself, take it easy.

Warm up, start slow and cover your mouth if the air is very cold, according to Dr. Grace Cater, a cardiologist in Cleveland. “Snow shoveling can be more strenuous than exercising full throttle on a treadmill,” Cater said on MetroHealth’s Heart and Vascular Center’s webpage.

Bill Foster, who for 40 years has shoveled his own and neighbors’ snowy sidewalks and driveways in the western Chicago suburbs, said common sense can make the job easier.

“The biggest mistake people make is starting with the easy stuff,” Foster said. “When you’re freshest and strongest, start at the end of the driveway where the plow dumps all the heavy road snow.”

A few more tips for keeping things manageable, from Good Housekeeping magazine:

1. Don’t put your back into it: Use your leg and thigh muscles instead, and push more snow than you lift.

2. Layer up: no heavy down coats for this job — it’s better to dress in layers you can remove as you work. Make sure caps or masks don’t impede your ability to see cars, icy spots, or people. You don’t want to whack someone with your shovel.

3. Drink up: Water keeps you hydrated as you work.

4. Stop when you need to, and take breaks every 15 minutes or sooner. Make sure family members and friends know you’re out there.

Foster recommends cutting the driveway down the middle so you are shoveling smaller passes out to the sides from the center line.

“And never wait till the snow stops falling,” he said. “I’d go out two or three times during a storm to stay ahead of it all.”

Popular Mechanics writer Roy Berendsohn advises clearing the car off thoroughly before starting on the driveway.

He also recommends keeping a stiff brush and some oil handy to remove buildup on snow-blower blades. Make sure paths are clear of newspapers, dog toys, rocks and electrical cords before you fire yours up.

Also, decide where the snow’s going to go before you start. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget once you’re out there. Starting to shovel from the house out to the perimeter of the property is inefficient. Drop the first load far enough away from where you start that you’ll have room for piles as you work your way back to your starting position.

You should keep the snow shovel close to your body as you work; snow in an average shovelful can weigh nearly 30 pounds. And twisting to throw a load is hard on the back.

As for tools, garden-variety shovels have been doing the job for hundreds of years, but many of today’s tools can make it easier.

Choose equipment that’s sized for you and your abilities. Shovels have come a long way from the heavy, rigid wood-and-steel models of years past. Some are ergonomically designed, with bent handles to minimize the effort you need expend.

The Ames True Temper, for example, is a plastic shovel that weighs little and has two grips for hands or feet. Reversing it gives you a scrape option.

The term “snow thrower” might conjure up visions of an industrial-size, gas-powered apparatus, but electric snow throwers might be an easier option for homeowners on smaller properties that see frequent snowfalls.

Snow Joe makes lightweight and heavier-duty versions (the latter can remove 650 pounds of snow in one pass) that plug in, and are relatively quiet and easy to maneuver.

Toro has an electric Power Curve shovel that it said will clear 4 inches of snow off a 50-by-20-foot driveway in about 10 minutes. If you’ve got serious snow to move, the company also has some powerful gas-powered blowers.

Its website,, has a page where you can put in your snow load, acreage and type of surface, and it will suggest which model would do the best job.

If you can’t or don’t want to use electricity or gas, there’s the Sno Wovel. Winner of Time Magazine’s 2006 Best Inventions Award, Sno Wovel is a simple-looking wheeled shovel. The wheels reduce lower back stress and overall exertion, since you shovel and tip instead of shovel and lift. Recent models fold and store flat.