It's never too early to think about snow removal.
But even in these parts, a snow shovel is an essential tool: Don't be cheap when you buy one. The better the shovel, the more efficiently and quickly the job goes, with less wear and tear on the body.
Need to know: What's comfortable for you. If your shovel seemed heavy the last time you cleared six inches from the sidewalk, get a new one. At the store, check whether the shaft is long enough for you to shovel while standing straight. The shaft can be made of metal or wood, but be sure the handle is D-shaped, so it can be grabbed and held easily, for longer periods; can help leverage the load; and can be used to apply force for pushing or scraping.
Material world: You want even wet snow to slide off the shovel, so you may want to buy a metal one with a Teflon or enamel coating. Experts recommend metal (aluminum, usually) over plastic because metal tends to last longer and can support heavier loads of snow. Metal edges can dig down to the pavement and be used to scrape frozen meltwater from sidewalk or driveway. (But don't use a shovel to chop thick ice; use an ice scraper.)
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Operating manual: Most shovel blades range between 14 and 18 inches wide; blade width determines how many passes you'll have to make to clean off the walk. Since most shovelers remove snow along a sidewalk's width rather than its length, an 18-inch-wide blade will make shorter work of the job. Then again, it's easier to lift with a 14-inch blade.
Some shovels are actually pushers, which require little or no lifting. One end of the blade is curved the way a snowplow blade is, so the snow is pushed to the side. Some pushers come on wheels; unfortunately, the wheels don't come with chains, in case you get stuck.
What will it cost? Shovels run from $25 to $60, with plastic blades the least expensive but also the least durable. You might want to throw in a pair of work gloves, too, to reduce wear and tear on your hands and keep them warm.
Quality control: Shovels require a small amount of maintenance, especially after they've been used frequently. The bolts that attach the blade to the shaft often work themselves loose, but constant retightening can strip them. Eventually, they'll need to be replaced. And the blade edge can get banged up and bent, especially if it's used as a chopper. Hammer the blade back into usefulness, then sand the edge sharp for scraping.
Ice, ice, baby: Snow shovels don't break solid ice or thick frost well. Get a chopper and keep the blade sharp.
An ounce of prevention: Shoveling snow is pretty strenuous exercise, not unlike running. Be sure you're dressed properly, in layers, so you can remove some to prevent overheating. Wear boots or shoes with rubber soles, so you're less likely to slip.
Both the cold and the actual work involved in shoveling put undue stress on the heart. So it's a good idea to warm up first, by walking around and stretching the muscles in your arms and legs. Lift small loads of snow and take frequent breaks while you work, even heading inside to get warm. If you feel pain, stop.
To avoid back injuries, lift as much with your legs as with your lower back. When you throw the snow away from the walk, move your feet instead of rotating your whole torso. Back troubles (disc injuries or inflamed ligaments) result because the spine isn't meant to have weight put on it, then rotated.