This has been an extremely challenging winter, especially for people like me in the top decades who struggled not only with pandemic loneliness and limitations, but also with snow-covered roads and ice-covered sidewalks.
I take my little dog to the park every morning for his run on a leash and often had to rely on the friendliness of strangers to navigate ice-glazed trails so I could return home in one piece.
I don’t so silently curse the neighbors who took it to their retreats for the winter in Covid without making sure their sidewalks are shoveled when it snows, which it did with particular vengeance in New York City this February.
Many in my neighborhood who shoveled only created a narrow path for hikers and could not clear the snow from the inner part of the sidewalk, where part of it regularly melted during the day and re-frozen at night, leaving a piece of black ice for pedestrians in the morning to slip and fall. An older friend who lives alone landed on one of those icy spots and broke her wrist, a challenging injury, but at least her hips and head remained intact.
It’s not that I don’t know how to walk on icy surfaces. I review the guidelines every winter thinking I was well equipped, but last year’s relatively mild winter may have left me feeling complacent and not paying enough attention to what to put on my feet. I changed my boots three times the other day without finding a pair that could reliably hold me upright over snowy, muddy, and icy terrain, even though they all supposedly have good rubber treads.
Maybe I should have consulted the Farmer’s Almanac for 2021. Had I foreseen how bad it could get, I might have reviewed the lab-tested advice of a research team at the Kite Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-UHN about the best non-slip shoes. It would have alerted me that none of the boots in my closet are really good, especially for someone my age exposed to the conditions I encountered on the streets of Brooklyn and Prospect Park this winter.
With the aim of keeping Canadian bones intact through long, icy winters, the team, led by Geoff Fernie, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto, tested 98 different types of winter boots, both for work and use, in 2016 also for leisure, and found that only 8 percent of them met the laboratory’s minimum standard of slip resistance.
Using the so-called Maximum Achievable Angle test method, the team evaluated the slip resistance of shoes in a simulated winter indoor laboratory with an icy floor that can be inclined at increasing angles. While they are fastened to a harness to prevent a real fall when slipping, the participants run uphill and downhill on the ramp in the tested shoes over bare ice or melting ice. Shoes that prevent slipping when the ramp is set at an angle of at least seven degrees receive a single snowflake rating. Two snowflakes are awarded for slip resistance at 11 degrees and three snowflakes for 15 degrees. But 90 styles of shoes that were originally tested through 2016 didn’t get snowflakes, and none got more than one snowflake.
In the past few years, things have improved. 65 percent of the boots tested in 2019 received at least one snowflake, said Dr. Fernie in an interview. The latest reviews, which are constantly updated, can be found online at ratemytreads.com.
He explained that two types of outsole, Arctic Grip and Green Diamond, offer the best traction on ice. Green Diamond acts like rough sandpaper with hard sand in the rubber sole, which works best on cold hard ice. Arctic Grip soles contain microscopic glass fibers that point downwards to provide a firm footing on wet ice. You may find some brands that use both technologies in the same sole for protection on both hard and wet ice.
Unfortunately, I’ve tried too late in the current snow and ice season to find a pair my size, one of the top rated boots that Dr. Fernie’s lab has tested. So, for the time being, I have to rely on the Yaktrax clamps I bought years ago and try to get them onto my existing shoes.
Fogging up properly or not, knowing how to safely walk on snowy and icy surfaces is worth it.
My # 1 rule: never go out without a properly charged cell phone, especially when you are alone. Take it slow and use handrails on steps when available. If there’s nothing to hold on to on slippery steps, go sideways.
Walk like a duck or a penguin. The attitude is far from glamorous, but it could help keep you out of the emergency room. Extend your arms to the side to improve balance. Keep your hands out of your pockets; You may need them to prevent a possible fall. And wear gloves!
Bend forward a little from your knees and hips to lower your center of gravity and keep it aligned over your front leg as you walk. With your legs apart, slightly twist your feet outward and take short, flat steps. Or if that is not possible, mix at an angle from side to side to move forward without lifting your feet.
Pay attention to your surroundings and look ahead as you walk to avoid tripping hazards. If you are using a stick, secure the end with an ice pick made for this purpose. An ordinary rubber-tipped stick is not much better on ice than slippery shoes.
Avoid heavy packages that can throw you off balance. I use a backpack to carry small items or when I buy something larger I use a shopping cart.
And know how to fall to minimize the risk of serious injury. When you start to fall backwards, quickly tuck your chin against your chest to avoid hitting your head and straighten your arms away from your body so that your forearms and palms, not your wrists and elbows, hit the ground.
If you fall forward, try to roll to the side on landing so that a forearm, not your hand, hits the ground first.
Getting up from an icy surface can also be a challenge. If you are not injured, turn on your hands and knees. With your feet shoulder width apart, place one foot between your hands, then bring the other foot between them and try to push yourself up.