No one ever says, “Hey, let’s go snow shoveling!”
There are no cute shoveling jackets, no raucous shoveling contests, no celebrity shovelers.
Yet shoveling is crucial to surviving a Minnesota winter. Before we ski, sled, skate or simply leave the house, we often need to shovel our way to freedom.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she shovels.
A pristinely cleared walk that stops with laser precision at the neighbor’s boundary suggests a rugged individual who expects no less of others.
Sculpted banks of snow reveal a fastidiousness, even artistry, while other folks just fling. Not judging, as long as their sidewalks are cleared.
Minimalists take no more than a single swipe with their shovels, leaving a sidewalk that looks like a finger drawn through frosting.
Then there are the generous souls who shovel for those who can’t, saving them from pedestrians’ disdain, or the reach of the law — albeit law with a small “l.”
Here’s how it works: In many metros, stymied walkers must wait 24 hours after the snow ends before reporting a slacker — time enough for more rugged trekkers to stomp the snow into an urban Antarctica. Once reported, laggards get a chance to do the right thing. Re-inspections are scheduled. The city of Minneapolis’ website cautions that an issue “may take 21 days to resolve.”
In other words, if that first snow isn’t shoveled, all is lost.
Let’s be careful out there
Some residents have moved beyond shovels, buying snowblowers that send great geysers of snow into the air, not unlike how they imagine their money dispersing as they pay for the contraptions.
Still, in many cases, it’s money well spent.
Annually, almost 100 Americans die while shoveling snow, according to a 17-year study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Every shoveling death studied was the result of cardiac distress. An additional 11,500 people annually end up in emergency rooms with shoveling injuries. Curiously, 15 percent of injuries are from being struck by a snow shovel. Most shovelers, however, throw out their backs, hurt themselves when they fall or just generally pull muscles in directions that their muscles find disconcerting.
Sometimes, safety is a matter of using the right shovel.
Teddy Kim, an instructor at TwinTown CrossFit in Minneapolis, wrote a blog post about choosing the right shovel, first noting that a shovel is a Class 1 Lever, “meaning the effort and resistance are on either side of the fulcrum.”
Furthermore: “As Archimedes proved, if the distance between your hands is greater than the distance between your fulcrum hand and the shovel blade, then input force is amplified” — a circumstance that his clients recognize as “suboptimal lifting mechanics.” Tough for an English major to argue with that.
Bottom line: Kim owns a shovel with a curved handle — as would Archimedes.
What Floridians don’t know
Once, the same basic household shovel was used to toss cattle feed, horse manure, furnace coal and snow.
Over time, this simple shovel came under the same design urges that led to differently shaped glasses for different wines, or razors tailored to the vigor of one’s whiskers.
Today’s hardware stores are filled with slim blades of aluminum or steel, plastic scoops that resemble clamshells, shovels that look like bucket loaders and shovels that could also scoop horse manure.
Most handles are straight, but some have a crook that’s supposed to ease the amount of bending and stooping. There are double-handled shovels such as the ManPlow, a whopping 36 inches across and marketed as a “snow pusher.” Specifically, a “pro snow pusher.”
The most novel may be the Wovel, with a large wheel in the handle that rolls along the ground. A scoop of snow isn’t lifted and tossed as much as pivoted on the wheel and flung. These are distinctions that lifetime Floridians cannot grasp.
Settergren Ace Hardware in Linden Hills sells about 1,000 shovels every year, clerk Mike Tillemans said with some wonderment. This winter, the store has been touting the SnowPlow that Ace developed, in various widths, with an Iowa company that makes shovels for hog barns. One model is called the Snow Dominator, which surely gets your hopes up.
A snow shovel purchase cannot be taken lightly. Leo Arms, of Minneapolis, walked out of the store holding a daffodil-yellow shovel with a steel wear strip, “after one of my shovels broke.”
One of my shovels?
An experienced shoveler, Arms has several, depending upon whether he’s pushing light snow or attacking a berm of frozen ice chunks left by the street plow. “I wanted to make sure this had a metal lip, because once the plastic starts to flex, that’s not good.”
Arms fires up his snowblower when the snow is especially heavy, but prefers shoveling.
“It’s good exercise, kind of perks you up,” he said. “Part of the fun is that the kids are out with me, playing in the snow. I have two tiny shovels for them — although that probably just makes more work for me.”
Shoveling snow can be peculiarly satisfying, with effort rewarded by tangible and immediate evidence of effect — something that can’t be said for much anymore.
Nighttime is one of the best times to shovel. If there’s a bright moon, a snowy yard becomes a giant night light, illuminating each bite of the shovel. If the wind is still, you can work enough to stay warm, maybe taking time to shape the rising drifts on each side of the driveway, as if Cecil B. DeMille were parting the snow.
The stars sparkle like snowflakes, and then you realize they are snowflakes sparkling like stars.
More work awaits. You rest a bit, for shovels also are good to lean on.