Thursday, February 3, 2011

Shoveling Snow

I moved to New England from California 15 years ago and have been shoveling snow from December to March ever since.   Managing snow, especially this winter with over 5 feet of snow fall in Wellesley, is more complex than it seems.

There are many different kinds of snow  - light powder, wet/heavy gluelike snow, wintry mix of rain/sleet/ice, the "crud" left by snowplows, and the corn snow leftover from freeze/thaw cycles.

I'd like to say that New Englanders have even more words for snow than the Eskimos, but the whole notion that any language has a vast number of words for snow is an urban myth.

Here's my recommendation for the equipment you need to shovel snow in New England

1.  An Ergonomic snow pusher .   When snow first falls, you need a shovel to push it down the driveway.   I typically cut a path to the street and then use the pusher to move snow to the sides of the driveway.  Then, I can use my scoop shovel to move it into piles.

2.  A Scoop Shovel .   A pusher is great for moving snow but not so good for picking up chucks or larger amounts of consolidated snow to create piles (actually, it looks more like a canyon at this point in Wellesley) next to the driveway.   Scoop shovels were originally invented to move grain, but they work perfectly for snow.     I highly recommend Aluminum scoops because the poly shovels bend and break.

3.  An Ice Chipper/scraper  - Freeze/thaw cycles create a consolidated mixture of ice and snow that's as hard as concrete.   An Ice Chipper is create to break up the chunks as well as scape the ice/snow that sticks to asphalt and creates a hazard.   Of course you can salt your driveway to soften the ice before chipping it.

4.  A Spading Fork - Although it seems like an odd tool to use for snow management, a Spading Fork helps break up the large frozen piles of snow, ice, sand, and salt that the snowplows leave in your driveway.   I use a spading fork to turn the snowplow mound into smaller, manageable pieces, then the scoop shovel to move them to the piles.

5. A Sno-Broom -  Using a shovel, a chipper or a fork on your car is a really bad idea.  A Sno-broom enables you push ice and snow off your car without scratching the finish.    An ice scraper for the windows is also a good idea.

Some of you may be thinking that a snow blower or thrower would be a better idea.     But where's the fun in that!


Lars D said...

Some languages do have many words for snow. Some commonly used Danish words for snow:


And then there are words for different arrangements of snow, like snetykning, sneskorpe, snedrive, snebunke etc.

Of course, there are also words for snow processes, like lavine, but these are not included.

Different temperatures create different crystals, and different processes (wind, temperature changes, sun radiation) change the consistency, look, weight etc., and it is very obvious that this will generate a lot of words to describe the different situations.

Some languages combine words into single words, and Greenlandic is one of those. Therefore, you may get a lot of snow words up there, but they are usually combinations of just a handful of words with other generic words. In that sense, the Danish words can be described as combined words that derive from only three words meaning snow: sne, slud, sjap - however, to the ordinary Dane, they are conceived as being more than just combinations.

Unknown said...

A new tool to add to the arsenal is a Wovel (a wheeled shovel). It's been a great addition this winter.

Anon Ymous said...

A standard straight bladed garden shovel works pretty well on hard compacted snow like the stuff at the end of the driveway that the city plows leave. Also it's good for moving the big pile of snow further away from the driveway so you have a place to dump new snow. The only problem is that it doesn't move a lot of volume at a time so you're better off using some type of scooped shovel after you've broken up the snow.

People are more likely to have some type of straight bladed shovel in their toolshed than a spading fork. It also decreases the need to switch back and forth to the ice chipper (which is an awesome tool for the sheet ice that forms on the driveway).

I do think a snow thrower is essential. Preferably one with a separately powered impeller and that's self-propelled. But I rent so manual labor it is..

testing thing said...

I work for an industrial supply company and I had this exact conversation with a co-worker this morning while discussing snow removal, and how the ice storm changed the equation for me on the plastic shovels.

The summary (or final joke) "No wonder Eskimos had 200 words for snow!"

My question for you: Metal weather strip on the plastic shovel, Yes or No?

Stephen Gordon Earle said...

I have to agree with Pip on the Wovel. I've used one for seven years now and swear by it - especially when getting rid of wet heavy, snow. It's easy on the heart and back, and anyone who ever played on a seesaw as a kid knows how to operate it. Check out the video at

Unknown said...

Well said good sir! Enjoy the snow while you can, there's plenty more where that came from!

Joshua said...

Here in New York, we also had the chance to consider snow management techniques.

I dreamed up the snow vaporizer: sucks in the snow, melts internally, sends the water vapor out the tailpipe...

I guess it's just a pipe that's fun!

Anne's Helpful Son said...

Not adding anything new, but I'd like to further laud the wovel. I have a terrible back, and even a little shoveling hurts for days and can end in total debilitating disaster. But using the wheel-plow-lever action leaves me tired, but pain free.

Plus, mine's called the 'snow wolf', which gives the experience of shoveling a kind of edgy coolness.