How to Shovel Snow


Surely the winter of 2014 will go down in the history books for breaking numerous records and for teaching us a new term: Polar Vortex. Sounds like the title of a Disney movie, doesn’t it?

Actually—and I had to look this up to be absolutely sure to get it right—the Polar Vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. However, once in a rare while the vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada and into the U.S. And that spells another term, and the subject of this column: snow. Cold, wet, heavy snow.

Although shoveling the stuff to keep driveways and walkways clear seems pretty straightforward, there’s a subtle art to the task. And it helps to have the right equipment.


But first a word of caution: Shoveling snow is not a task for the weak of heart. We know this because after a snowfall hospitals are inundated with heart attack victims and patients with wrenched backs. If you’re out of shape or suffer health problems, hire a local teen or befriend a neighbor with a snow blower instead.

1. Use a good shovel. You want a shovel with a scoop that is wide at the bottom and has a long handle with an ergonomic bend to allow you to work with minimal bending. You also want a shovel with a no-stick surface. The #1 pick out of 25 shovels tested by the folks at The Sweet Home blog, the True Temper Mountain Mover fits the criteria perfectly and affordably priced at about $25. Adding a backsaver grip attachment to the shovel will reduce the risk of injury.

2. Have a plan. Before you even take your first scoop, decide where you’re going to dump the snow. Drop the first shovelful farther away from where you are standing, then dump remaining snow closer and closer to where you are. That way, the last scoops that you shovel are moved the shortest distance.

3. Think rectangles. Everything from a driveway to a patio to a walkway is really a rectangle, and rectangles have a center point. Move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge.

4. Don’t be fussy. You want to do a thorough job but don’t become perfectionistic about removing every last bit. Once you expose a good deal of the surface below, the darker color of the concrete, asphalt or dirt will absorb more readily the sun’s heat and melt what remains. Or it will just snow again.

5. Team up. Shoveling with a friend or neighbor is always more enjoyable than shoveling on your own. Besides, two or three sets of hands can get the job done a lot quicker.

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13 replies
  1. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Although I live in California, I did grow up in Chicago and spent a fair amount of time shoveling. My father used to have us spray some WD40 on the shovel (especially the working end) to make it easier to move the snow. Then he would put his feet up in his recliner as his three children went out to shovel!

  2. Palacemanager
    Palacemanager says:

    Just thought I would share an amazing invention that was reviewed on our local television station here in Grand Rapids, MI…..(Can you say Lake Effect snow??) The segment is called Try it Before you Buy it and I have come to trust it when there is some new fangled item that hits the shelves. This new gadget is very impressive and will help anyone with this back breaking job of snow shoveling…especially this year! It’s called the “Shovelution”. It works. Completely takes the “ache” out of the job! It is made in the USA and NOT available in stores. Only at the website. The company is located in Downington, PA. There is a 30 day money back guarantee, so there isn’t a risk that you won’t like it and get stuck with it. It attaches to your current shovel, pitch fork, or other yard tool that you may be tempted to hurt your back using! So even Mary, in California might find a use for it since she doesn’t get to shovel snow like some of us!! 🙂 I LOVE IT!!

    Here is the link to the segment video:…/Try-It-Before-You-Buy-It–Shoveluti…‎

    And here is the link to the website for purchase:‎

    • emjay
      emjay says:

      Does it shovel dry sand? ‘Cuz that’s where I’m looking right now. Dry, deserty sand. And I live near the sea in an area that normally gets 21 inches of rain a year. Right now, our rainy season has produced .64 inches (that’s POINT 64 inches) of rain since July. We’re in trouble!

      • Palacemanager
        Palacemanager says:

        I would say yes….if you go to the product website it gives a list of suggested uses. This is not a shovel in itself. It attaches to whatever type of yard tool you might use for any particular job and then by using an assisted type of mechanics it takes the use of your back and legs out of the equation when you attach it to your shovel, pitch fork, whatever tool you are using. The website is very informative with videos showing different uses. I would recommend checking that out! Hope this helps!

  3. Birgit Nicolaisen
    Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    We have a small snow blower (21″) that is just perfect for me to handle. We often clear the driveways of neighbors on either side and one across the street as well. I use a shovel for the porch and steps and pathway that is really awkward with the snow blower. If DH is home when it’s snowing we take turns keeping things clear. Have used the snow blower more this year than in the last 3 combined I think. Of course yesterday was 48, so many of the snow piles have melted as well. This inconsistent weather is nuts!

  4. Shey
    Shey says:

    And it’s the law in Colorado. Our mailman will give us warnings if we’re not fast enough for him. You’re supposed to have it removed within 24 hrs of the last flake falling. And don’t forget the part where the driveway meets the street. I don’t shovel that area, just smooth it out, because if you get ruts at the end of the driveway, you’ll never get into the driveway again.

  5. Mirta
    Mirta says:

    Never really felt the need to comment till now. I am a petite women over the age of 50 and have shoveled my long inclined driveway for over 20 years. It usually takes me on average about 3hrs (driveway, sidewalk, 2 flights of stairs and deck. Not to mention if I have been plowed in for an average snow falling of anything over 6 inches. I have tried using those ergonomic long handle shovels and they are way to heavy and cumbersome for a women of my statue. I do better with a straight shovel which are light and get closer to the pavement then anything else I have tried even a snowblower which leaves a layer of snow which I still have to shovel only on my driveway or else I can’t make it up. I find if you pace yourself and bend your knees you’ll be fine.

  6. Linda Pries
    Linda Pries says:

    I have to laugh at this “Polar Vortex” stuff. I live in Michigan, always have. We used to have snow like the storm that hit recently AT LEAST once a winter, often more like two or three times. We called it winter and expected it. Now it is a “Polar Vortex” and everyone went into panic mode. My granddaughter shovels here and there is someone who will come and plow the driveway if there is a lot of snow or she can use the neighbor’s snow blower if the plower can’t come.

    • KnitWitty66
      KnitWitty66 says:

      The Polar Vortex actually referred to the temperatures and not necessarily the snowfall amounts. Most parts of the country are not accustomed to days in a row of -50 wind chills, and the deep south typically doesn’t get temps in the low teens, such as was experienced last week.

      Everyone knows that Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana are full of you hardy types who think everyone else is wimpy, but this really was an extra-cold snap, for most of the country.

  7. chris
    chris says:

    Does it even snow where you live? I just thought this was a funny column subject for someone who lives in sunny Southern California!

  8. Terry B
    Terry B says:

    Just a little too late for me 🙁 I did great shoveling around the house but when my husband asked me to shovel out the big gate so he could get out the tractor to plow our big long driveway, that did it! I strained my back because the gate was covered with Ivey (which by the way would make a good column, how to get rid of it!) and full of ice. Needless to say my Christmas stuff is still up!

  9. Beck
    Beck says:

    My husband and I both shovel snow depending on who is home when it snows. Our drive is almost too long to shovel all at one time. We purchased a small gas snow blower and it is one of the best things I have ever purchased. We live in the midwest where we have several major snows and a lot of small snowfalls per year. It is easy to pull start it makes quick work of a drive that can take an hour to shovel which is a long time to be in cold temperatures.
    I have heard of people spraying their shovel with Pam or other oil so the snow slides off quickly when you dump it. The snow we have had this year had a lot of slush and ice on the bottom that makes it slip off faster.


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