When George Bailey first appears in the Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life, he and a bunch of other boys are sliding down a snowy hill on their snow shovels (I guess their parents couldn't afford sleds or toboggans). That's about the only fun use to which snow shovels have ever been put, as far as I know.
For with that one exception, these tools signify nothing but drudgery. Worse yet, to those who suffer from bad backs, snow shovels are nothing less than instruments of torture. The human frame simply isn't designed for extended periods of snow shoveling. It was with these thoughts in mind that I recently tested three different Ames True Temper products:
- An Avalanche Ergo Plus ergonomic snow shovel
- A Snow Blazer wide-grip snow shovel
- A Penguin VersaGrip snow pusher
Snow pushers would seem, at first glance, to be a wonderful alternative for people with bad backs. With their wide, curved blades, snow pushers act like human-powered plows. Although you can toss snow with them in a pinch, that's not really what they are designed for: the shape of their blades makes lifting and flinging snow with them somewhat more difficult. Instead, as their name suggests, the idea with snow pushers is to push the snow out of the way.
I must say, though, that as someone who lives in a region that receives a lot of snow, using snow pushers has never made much sense to me. For where do you push the snow so that it will be "out of the way?" If you push it off your driveway onto the edge of an adjacent lawn area, you'll create a wall of snow lining the driveway. Where I live, that wall of snow will soon become a wall of ice. So while pushing the snow onto the lawn may work for the first storm, where do you push the snow for the rest of the winter? And if your response is, "Well, just push the snow from that first snowstorm way out into the middle of the lawn, so it will be out of the way," I have two objections:
- Doing so may damage your lawn
- It seems like a lot of work to me!
But those of you who, unlike me, live in regions with minimal snowfall may be interested in the Penguin VersaGrip snow pusher. The plastic (poly) blade is 24" wide X 11.5" long and its edge is protected by a steel wear strip. Durability is further enhanced by a steel core shaft. But it's the wide-grip handle of the product that gives the VersaGrip its name. The handle of this snow pusher is designed so as to accommodate two gloved hands and a variety of grips. For a picture, click the image above right to open my mini-photo gallery.
If, like me, you have no use for snow pushers but do find the wide-grip handle of the VersaGrip appealing, you may be interested in another Ames True Temper product: the Snow Blazer. It boasts the same unusually-shaped handle as the VersaGrip, along with the same steel core shaft. The blade is also plastic and protected by a steel wear strip.
But the blade on the Snow Blazer is 19" wide X 13.5 inches long, giving it the shape of the more typical snow shovel. However, it differs from the common flat-blade products in that the sides and back are taller, creating more of a "scoop." Because of its scoop-like blade, the Snow Blazer could double as a snow pusher in a pinch. Yet it's still easy to toss Old Man Winter's refuse with it. I think of the Snow Blazer as a nice compromise between snow pushers and standard snow shovels.
Ergonomic Model: The Best of the Lot
The Avalanche Ergo Plus ergonomic snow shovel is a much different product, despite also having a plastic blade with more of a "scoop" than do flat-blade products. Yes, as you can see from the picture (above right), the Avalanche is one of those funny ergonomic snow shovels with the bent shaft.
The edge of the Avalanche's blade is protected not by steel, but by a nylon wear strip, so that you can shovel snow off decks without worrying about damaging the wood. If you don't have a deck, the wear strip will at least extend the life of the blade a bit. Of course, you'll wear down the wear strip in no time if you try to break ice with these snow shovels.
Dealing With Ice
On the subject of breaking ice, let me reveal a little secret. Despite the skepticism one hears about breaking ice with plastic snow shovels, I've been doing it here and there (nothing major) for many years and have had very little breakage (on the snow shovels, I mean, not the ice!). If you'd rather not chance it, though, just use ice melt products or ice-choppers as alternatives. Incidentally, aluminum blades with steel wear strips are not much better than plastic blades with nylon wear strips in this regard, as I relate in a separate review.
Your Back Will Thank You
But first and foremost, these ergonomic snow shovels are about ease of use -- and avoiding back injuries. No steel core shaft here: this ergonomic snow shovel has an aluminum shaft, making it as light as possible. Reducing the weight of a snow shovel is one way to minimize the stress shoveling imposes on your back.
More importantly, the bent shaft is supposed to allow you to keep your back straight while shoveling, as you can get a good grip on the shaft without having to reach down too far. Nonetheless, when shopping for such ergonomic snow shovels, pick them up first and go through the motions of shoveling, to see if they're the right length for you. The one I tested wasn't quite long enough for someone of my height, meaning the temptation to bend my back was still there -- thus defeating the purpose behind the ergonomic design.
If you truly dislike plastic blades and seek an alternative that's still lightweight, another Ames True Temper ergonomic snow shovel (sometimes advertised as a "snow pusher," it's really a snow shovel), the Aluminum Ergo Articblast, bears an aluminum blade.