Skip to main content

Shovel Snow the Canadian Way; Scoop It or Pull and Push It

Canadians 'Push or Pull' Snow. They do NOT 'LIFT' it.

Shovel –from the old English ‘scofl’ from ‘scofan,’ meaning – to shove: Chambers English Dictionary. The word 'shove' says it all

Wherever possible you ‘push’ or ‘pull’ the snow; lifting is a last resort. Unfortunately the ‘last resort’ of lifting is nearly always necessary. Shovelling snow isn’t simply a matter of digging a shovel into the snow and throwing the fluffy white stuff over your shoulder – there is a rhythm to it, much like dancing. For this particular two-step, your dance instructor has to be a Canadian; let’s face it, that’s all we do for 6 months of the year.

Dance clothing to some crazy Canadians is optional and dependent on the temperature at the time of shovelling. It can be bewildering to outsiders to see Canadians wearing short sleeved t-shirts as they clear the snow on a gloriously sunny winter day. But those days are rare, and they aren’t completely daft; they do slather on the sun block. In normal cold and damp winter weather, sensible people will wear layers of clothing for insulation purposes, as well as insulated gloves.

Before you venture forth, to clear that driveway, think of yourself as a wick. The deadly cold and damp will seep up through your feet and force your body heat out through the top of your head. You must wear thick-soled, waterproof boots and a hat or toque. Unless it is vital, try to avoid shovelling during blizzard conditions or in a bitterly cold arctic wind with swirling snow.

Mouth breathers beware – snow kills – it is imperative that your mouth is covered, and it helps if you wear a scarf. Gasping for freezing air through your mouth does not give the frigid air any time to warm up. Not only do your lungs renege at this treatment, it doesn’t do your heart any good either. There is a reason for inhaling through your nose; not only do your nostrils filter the air, but the longer journey gives your body time to smooth the shock.

As mentioned earlier, shovelling snow kills. No matter how young you are, attacking snow as if it was weightless and the task has to be finished immediately, can kill you. Snow has the same peculiar attraction to men as does a new drill or a new chainsaw. Give a man a new toy like that and once they have finished the job that needed to be done, they look around for anything else to bore holes in or cut. There is a theory that the dinosaurs didn’t die out due to a meteor colliding with Earth, but were consumed in the conflagration started by the inventor of fire. Young men die every winter because they don’t show the snow the respect it demands. Take your time. Stop every few minutes and check that you are still alive.

The choreography for the shovel shuffle begins with choosing your partner, in this case – your shovel. Do you need a pusher, a scoop or a lifter? Snow shovel blades are mostly ribbed plastic, and may have either plastic or wooden handles. The blades can be various sizes, and the handles can be either straight or ergonomically curved to protect your back. It is important to find one that you feel comfortable with.

1) The pusher has a straight, flat blade. When used on an ergonomic handle the blade is nearly vertical, and is designed to push snow away. Ideal if you have powder snow and there is hardly any effort needed to clear your driveway. For really deep powder or heavy snow the effort needed to move the snow makes the pusher inadvisable.

2) The scoop or sleigh type as it is sometimes known is a larger shovel with a double handle much like your walk- behind motor mower. If you have a large area to clear, this ‘sleigh’ type scoop may be perfect for you, but although it can carry a lot of snow and will slide easily, it still has to be emptied. Tipping the scoop on its side to empty heavy snow can be impossible, and tilting it up high enough to allow the snow to slide off can be daunting. (Think of the problems you have trying to empty a full wheelbarrow.) However, a nearby ditch would overcome those problems. If you do have a snow ditch on your property, a clever way of getting rid of snow is to use a ‘lifter’ to load two or three shovels of snow on to the ‘scoop’ and slide it to the ditch where you can upend it.

3) The lifter, (some would say, the old-fashioned lifter), looks like any normal yard shovel, has a T-top to the handle and blades of different sizes. If you have a small area, or a deck to clear, this is the one for you. It is tempting to use a blade with a depth of 18 inches or more. Don’t! Moving snow isn’t an exercise in weightlifting; it is more an exercise in patience. Go for a shovel with a blade width of about 18 inches and a shallower depth – say, 12 inches. You’ll find that will do the job adequately.

When beginning to shovel the first few falls of snow, try to keep your shovel above the gravel or pavement. The idea is to get your shovel to slide on the snow rather than become stuck or jammed on cracks, edges or stones (This will become so much easier as winter progresses and when the thaw comes you may be surprised to find that you have been walking on 6 inches of compacted snow.)

The blue shovels are 'pushers.'

The blue shovels are 'pushers.'

Snow Scoop or Sleigh

Snow Scoop or Sleigh

Snow Lifter

Snow Lifter

Boxer on the Roof?

Boxer on the Roof?

The end of your driveway after the first snow clearing

The end of your driveway after the first snow clearing

The end of your driveway after the second snowplough pass

The end of your driveway after the second snowplough pass

Where to put the snow?

This is a relevant question. The decision isn’t too important when the first snow flies in November or early December, as there is usually a thaw or two before winter really starts. When it snows on or near the Winter Solstice your decision is important. In a high snowfall area, the snow that falls then will still be there at the beginning of April; think seriously about this. The same snow will be with you for the next 3 months – at least.

Silly as it may seem, don’t just clear the snow in the immediate area of your driveway, car or deck. You may feel like a fool as you shovel the snow two or three yards further away than you think is sensible before dumping it, but you’ll be thankful you did it at winter’s end when others are running out of dumping space and the wall of snow above them is making them claustrophobic. Some people prefer to pile the snow against the walls of their home - avoiding any vents, naturally. It acts as extra insulation, but that has its own problems. The weight of the piled snow, especially when it freezes, can damage the house siding, and when the spring thaw comes the melting snow may leak into your home. The choice is yours.

When you have decided, slide your shovel in near the bottom of the snowfall until you have a half-full shovel load – a full shovel of wet snow is a heavy load if you do have to lift it. Slide the shovel back out with its load of snow, and pull or push it to its destination, whichever you find easiest. Try to work it so that you don’t have to lift the shovel to empty it. If you work it properly, you can slide your loaded shovel over the virgin snow, making a slight ramp before tipping the shovel up and emptying it. This ramp will also help with the next few shovelfuls.

Scroll to Continue

To protect our backs, we are always being told to bend our knees when shovelling snow; presumably this advice is given because it is easier to replace knees and hips, than it is to replace spines. But when and how are we supposed to bend those knees? This is how and when;-

1) Slide the loaded shovel as close as possible to where you want to empty it.

2) Keeping your right hand on the shovel T-top. [Reverse if left handed], step

forward with your left foot and turn your body 180° towards the shaft.

3) Keep your back straight and bend at the knees.

4) Place your left hand as close as possible to the shovel head.

5) Holding the shovel and still keeping your back straight, push upwards with both knees.

6) Empty the shovel at your chosen place.

When slipping into the shovelling rhythm, banish all thoughts of the mesmerizing ‘Riverdance’ from your mind; rather conjure up a picture of President Obama and his wife dancing at their Inaugural Ball. That should be your speed. Make the choice to stop and admire the scenery every few minutes before your heart makes the permanent choice for you.

If your driveway opens on to a main road that is ploughed by your municipality, the plough will send a huge bow-wave of snow and slush across the entrance of your drive.

Clear that bow-wave away first, before it freezes rock hard, but remember that the plough will return. On the plough’s second pass, the driver will come at least a yard closer to the road edge in order to clear more snow off the pavement; this will result in another bow-wave of snow. Before the plough does return, clear the right- angle of snow to the left of your driveway; transform it into a curve. It will be hard work and you may think you are wasting your energy, but because of your forward thinking, when the plough does return, there will be a lack of snow for it to push. Try not to look too smug when the non-event at the end of your driveway isn’t repeated at your neighbours.

When clearing the drive, start in the centre and shove the snow to one side only. After about four or five rows, have a break as you look at the part you’ve cleared. When you begin to breathe normally again, begin clearing the other side until it is level with the opposite side. Have another ‘Isn’t the world a magical place,’ break as you recover your breath again – time for a coffee?

One final piece of advice before you venture forth. Bearing in mind that you are going to be layered up to the hilt, and moving like a Michelin Man, do yourself a favor - have a pee. If you are desperate later, you will be amazed at how difficult it is to rip off buttons, zips or Velcro with frozen fingers before it’s……oh dear…! Safe Shovelling.

When to Shovel

If the snowfall is powdery snow and you become fascinated by its fluffy beauty, you may decide to leave the shovelling until the following day.

Before you make this final decision, check the weather forecast.

If the forecast for that evening is going to be below freezing, or the following day’s forecast is for frost, ice pellets or freezing rain, do yourself a big favour – get out there and shovel that snow. As long as it isn’t blowing a blizzard, shovel that snow. Even if it is snowing gently - shovel that snow.

Once the fluffy white stuff has been subjected to lower temperatures, a layer of ice will form on the surface, making it more difficult to shovel. If the snow is subjected to ice pellets or freezing rain, it will become as solid as rock. If this happens you will not be able to move the granite-like substance with a plastic snow shovel; it will need a steel spade, a pick, or a drill.

The ‘snow’ becomes so hard, that some local council’s snow blowing machines are damaged as they attempt to clear sidewalks.


John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on February 17, 2012:

Thanks for reading SoundStorm. The hub was my pleasure.

SoundStorm on February 17, 2012:

Great hub thanks for posting it

Related Articles