If you live in the Great White North and have spent at least one winter here, you probably already know most of what there is to know about how to clear away snow. If you've just moved here and you're new to the white stuff, you'll soon discover the joy that is shovelling snow. Granted, it's a joy that can wear thin quickly, but it's much easier to shovel snow if you know what you're doing!
Before you shovel
Even if you've been living in a snow region all your life, it's easy to slip a little out of snow-shovelling shape if you've been a long-time apartment dweller, or even just over the lazy, not nearly long enough summer. Take it easy at first. In a major snowstorm, nothing is so important that you have to be somewhere NOW. Trust me, everyone else will be late too.
The most important part of shovelling snow is to push, rather than lift. Lifting is very, very hard work, especially after doing it for a solid hour. Pushing is much, much easier.
The trick of the lift is to flick the snow away with a shrug of your shoulders and your forearms, as if you were bumping a volleyball. Ideally, the blade of your snow shovel never goes above hip level. For a heavy load, put your knees into it as well. Don't twist your back!
The heaviest snow falls when the weather is warmest and the lightest snow falls when the temperature is bitterly cold. That has to do with the water content. Heavier snow is wetter snow. Whenever possible, try to push heavy snow rather than lift it. Your back, arms, and muscles you didn't even know you had will thank you later.
Think of shovelling snow as a twisty equivalent of a long, intense session combining cardio training with repetitive lean-muscle strength training. Until you get used to it, it is a very good idea to stretch first as though you are about to begin a workout, because you are!
Most important of all, please don't shovel snow if you have heart problems. Every year, hundreds of people who have been shovelling snow are rushed to emergency rooms with heart attacks. In this case, it is well worth the money to hire someone, maybe your neighbour's kid, to shovel out your laneway for the season.
When to shovel
I usually shovel the driveway whenever the snow gets about ankle-deep and the temperature is going to stay below freezing. It's an easy way to keep the driveway bare, and it almost never takes me longer than half an hour.
During a heavy snowfall, plan to shovel snow more than once. Ankle-deep snow is a lot easier to clear away than knee-deep snow, so you'll spend a lot less overall time if you shovel more frequently. The more often you shovel during a snowfall, the easier it will be to clear away the snow.
If it's a sunny day and there's not all that much snow, I often don't bother. A dark asphalt driveway will soak up those rays and help clear the driveway. However, you've got to make sure there's enough cleared snow that the sun's rays can reach the asphalt through the snow cover.
If the snow is not going to go away on its own, you really should shovel. It's best not to drive over unshovelled snow, even if traction isn't an issue. The weight of your car will compact the snow under your tires into ice. That's going to take a lot more work to get rid of later. Even if it's nearly spring, those icy tire tracks are going to be the very last thing to melt.
Get rid of snowplow slush quickly for the same reason. Snowplows have to put the road snow they clear away somewhere, and that somewhere is always blocking the end of your driveway. If you don't get rid of it fast, it's going to freeze hard.
Winter's long, and there's lots more snow yet to come. Where are you going to put it all? When you are building up your snowbanks, remember that you will have to be pushing or throwing snow on top of them for the entire season. If you build them tall to begin with, you will have to throw snow that much higher later.
Instead, build them as flat as possible, across your entire lawn if you can. Use some time between snowfalls to cut the higher places down to size by spreading out the snow across your entire yard. That way, you can always build your snowbanks higher when the really heavy snow hits.
It's most important to keep the snowbanks at the end of your driveway as low as possible. You'll want to see over them when entering the road, and you'll want other drivers to see you coming.
Where you start shovelling depends on whether you're working from the front door or the garage. If you're starting from the front door, you'll have to shovel your way to the driveway first. If you have a raised porch or deck, you can just shove the snow off the edge under the railing. It's much easier than trying to lift snow over it.
Once you reach the driveway, start by clearing a path down the middle of your driveway all the way to the street. If you park your car in the driveway, start from the back of your car, then come back and finish that part of the driveway after you clean off the car. That's because you'll be dumping snow on the driveway later when you're cleaning off the car. Why shovel twice?
If a lot of snow has fallen, work your way down the driveway with sweeping curves that go from the middle to the side of the driveway. This will save you a lot of lifting. Run each curve in the opposite direction from the one before until you reach the street.
Don't worry about clearing away all the snow at this point. You just want a middle path to work from. At the same time, you want to trample as little snow as possible. Trampled snow is heavier snow.
Now that you have a centre path, more or less, you can push snow neatly from the centre to each side without having to go across the whole driveway. How much shovel overlap you use will depend on how much snow has fallen and how heavy it is. Work your way all the way down to the street.
Sometimes you will need to shovel out the end of the driveway after the snowplow has passed. Do it quickly, before it freezes. This is always heavy snow. Unfortunately, this is also the one time you will need to lift, although at least there's not a lot of it. There's not a lot you can do about the road salt, but try to keep the worst of it as close to the curb as possible.
Use sand or salt on any icy patches. Remember, salt becomes useless once the temperature falls more than 10 degrees below freezing, and that mixture can even make traction worse. In that case, just add some more grit, so your boots and your tires don't slip. You should be keeping a bag of kitty litter in your trunk for the same reason.
Having fun while shovelling
Shovelling goes fastest as a team effort. A pair of friends can shovel out a driveway more than twice as quickly as just one person working alone. You're shovelling, you're talking, you'll never get out of breath, and the time just flies by. You can even split the tasks, getting your friend to work on the porch and the car while you begin on the driveway. When your friend finishes, he can start shovelling at the other end of the driveway and work towards you. You'll be surprised at how fast you finish!
Get a shovel for every member of the family! However, make sure that each shovel is suited to that family member's size and abilities. There's no sense getting a snow scoop for someone who can't push that weight of snow!
If you shovel snow with your whole family, it might go a bit slower but you'll have more fun. Even the youngest children will have a great time "helping." Take some time to play. Throw a few snowballs! Take the task in small batches, and build some positive memories in the process. This winter will only come once in your life. Make the most of it.