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The Easiest Way to Keep Your Sidewalks Clear and Safe in Vancouver Winters

We have had a weekly deluge of snow for the past month in British Columbia, leaving a lot of people stranded in their driveways as inclines make it impossible to get out. Clearing a long driveway is a task for the brave, or, preferably a snow plow. However, sidewalks can be handled without too much difficulty by residents and business owners by giving attention to timing.

I walked outside as the first snow fell. There was about a four inch cover on the ground. Coming from the prairies and being a resident manager for years, I’ve had to manage snow, lots of it.

If I would have had my way, I would immediately have gone outside once the snow stopped, or even in the middle of the snowfall, and began clearing the sidewalks. The trick is to get at the snow while it’s soft and pretty and white. Once it is hard and trampled on, you are basically dealing with chipping rock. But before it gets to that stage it’s actually fun to play in the fluffy snow and swoosh it off your sidewalk.

Regrettably, I didn’t do that. Because we now live in a condo I don’t even own a shovel.

Speaking of shovels, if you are buying, get the firmest, sturdiest shovel you can find. It should be able to chip ice if you need to.

Just as I feared, it happened that the sidewalks around the perimeter of our building were not cleared in a timely manner and turned into lumpy ice. I’m not sure which is worse, lumpy ice or smooth ice. I generally try to avoid walking on the totally unpredictable lumpy ice and gingerly step on the snow beside it so that I at least have some traction. I want to avoid falling at all costs. But the other day I had to walk across the Superstore parking lot and it was completely cleared but was treacherous with large patches of black ice.

At the best of times it’s difficult to control the ice in these conditions. But once the snow is cleared away, and you have bare sidewalk, that is the best time to put down a little bit of salt.

With the frosting that happens overnight, never mind the freezing drizzle, you need to check for slipperiness and probably apply a bit of salt almost every morning. Early morning is the time to apply salt. 

A very small amount of salt will go a very long way. Try to see how little salt you can get away with. I don’t like to see salt crusted next to the side of buildings. Apply it only where people will walk.

You just need a bit of salt on a clear sidewalk, and probably not even every day. But once there is packed snow and ice you almost need a wheelbarrow of salt…well, not quite, but a lot more, so you don’t want to wait and let that happens. Remember, an ounce of prevention….

If it starts to snow again, follow the same process. Every time the snow falls, think of it as an invitation to play outside with your shovel. Keep a walking path cleared. Then you won’t end up chipping at ice later.

There is also a trick for chipping ice. Here in the lower mainland we can count on above freezing temperatures on most days. If you have let your snow harden into ice, you may want to wait until midday when the temperatures rise and the ice and snow starts to turn a little slushy. At this point it is much easier to break it up and scoop it off the sidewalk than when it is frozen solid. And remember, you don’t have to chop the sidewalk, just the ice. There is a trick to hitting the ice at a certain angle so that it breaks into pieces which you can then scrape into your shovel and toss into a heap beside the path. It’s actually fun once you get the hang of it.

Dealing with the kind of snow we have had this year is not something we are accustomed to in Vancouver. Like me, many people who read this probably don’t even own a shovel, particularly if you live in a condo. Next year I’m going to get on top of the snow right away. If I don’t see someone out there clearing the sidewalks I will personally ask to use the property shovels and get out there myself rather than having to spend a month avoiding a slippery, bumpy path. Thankfully someone cleared the front entrance but they neglected the path that leads to the road where most of us are headed. This problem could have easily been solved with half an hour of shoveling after each snowfall.

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Georghe and Rodica Grigore at 6369 165A St., Cloverdale, kept their sidewalks clear for people who came to view their 50,000+ lights.
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I am a writer, a painter/artist, musician/song writer. Writing and art and music satisfy my longing for beauty and harmony and love. My world is perfect when I am able to share these gifts with others.