Snow removal is all about attitude: Look at it like a workout

A couple of winters ago, we had so little snow that I never once started my snowblower. This year was obviously Mother Nature's payback. Since we had so much snow this winter, I thought I'd go over my snow-removal procedures.

What I do depends on when we get the snow and how much snow we get. Like anything in life, snow removal is all about attitude. If I tell myself it's going to be my exercise for the day, it doesn't seem quite as bad.

When I was younger, we lived in a house with a normal-sized driveway. Back then, my only snow-removal tool was a shovel. I can remember a few times when the snow was so deep I had to take a cut or two of snow off the top before I could shovel to the ground. That was a lot of snow.

Occasionally, a nice neighbor with a snowblower would help out. When you're out there with that much snow, armed only with a shovel, there is nothing better than a helpful neighbor, let me tell you.

Then we moved to a house with a very large U-shaped driveway; in effect, we now have two driveways. That's when I finally had to get a snowblower. Advancing age and so much more snow to clear demanded it.

On a really bad day, it takes me about 90 minutes to get the whole driveway cleared. That's a workout, even with the snowblower.

Lets say it’s a workday. Since I leave for work so early in the morning, I try to just blast my car out of the snow-covered driveway and into the street, which I hope will be plowed, figuring I can deal with the driveway later in the day.

The prospect of running the snowblower in the frigid cold and dark pre-sunrise morning is too depressing to contemplate, unless someone in the house has to get her car out before I get home from work.

On the weekend, I don't have to worry about timing so much, which is great. Even if my church organist wife has to get out for Mass, the sun is at least out by then, which makes it so much better.

If the snow accumulation is no more than a couple of inches, I won't bother with the loud, heavy machine; instead, the pusher shovel works just fine. I treat it like a workout and it's not so bad.

If we get up to, say, four inches, then I'll go with the regular shovel. It just seems wasteful to use a gas-powered machine for so little snow. As long as I'm still strong enough to do it by shovel, I always try that first.

If we get six inches or more, the snowblower and the ear protectors come out. No way around it. There's just too much driveway; I don't need or want that much exercise.

By the way, if you're thinking of getting a snowblower, I'd recommend a 10-horsepower, two-stage unit as a minimum. In this part of the great Northeast, you need that much, trust me. Anything smaller and you won't be able to handle the nor’easters that seem to be coming so much more frequently these days. Sometimes bigger really is better.

OK, so now I'm ready to snowblow the driveway. It's taken me many years to perfect my routine. When you have a big driveway like I do, you have to think about the pattern, because you want to minimize the amount of snow you have to move twice; a snowblower can throw snow only so far.

First, I'll make a cut right in front of the garage door that is twice as deep as the length of the snowblower itself. This becomes my turn-around area for my return trip back up the driveway. You really need to have this.

It also helps to have all cars out of the driveway if possible. Blowing show onto the car is just more snow that has to be removed later.

When you make that first pass to the end of the driveway, it gets interesting. You need to turn around, but you might have a foot or more of snow on each side, wedging you in tighter than a belt line at a Weight Watchers’ meeting.

You hope your snowblower is powerful enough to get you through that dense, packed-in snow left in the depression at the bottom of the driveway by the town plow. If you break through that, then you can pivot 90 degrees and make a couple of turnaround cuts parallel to the house, same as you did at the top of the driveway.

This insures that, on the remaining trips to the bottom of the driveway, you won't have to go out into the street again, which is always dangerous. If you can't break though the packed-in mass at the bottom of the driveway, leave it for later and attack it in small chunks from a different angle (this is why you need a big, powerful snow-blower). If that doesn't work, God forbid, you have to shovel it by hand. Ouch. Pray for your lower back.

After the first lane is finished, it's time to get into a rhythm, making passes up and down the driveway until all the snow is cleared. At each turn-around, you have to pivot the heavy machine up on its rear wheels and turn it a full 180 degrees and then turn the snow exhaust chute the other way.

Sometimes you need to back up. The snowblower has two reverse speeds, but both are so slow that I usually just grunt and yank the thing back. As I said, snowblowing is my workout for the day; during a full session, I can easily sweat through all my clothes, no matter how cold it is.

I ordered an accessory hood for my machine that clamps onto the handles and protects me from snow blowback. On a windy day, you would not believe how much thrown snow can blow right back in your face.

The hood works great but often it can get covered with snow, making seeing where you're going tough. Still, I've experienced so much awful snow blowback that I can't imagine going without the hood.

When you get a lot of snow or a couple of snowstorms in a row, the piles around the driveway can get quite high, so high that you have trouble seeing when you pull out into the street. There's really nothing you can do about this — the snow has to go somewhere.

I've had my mailbox almost completely buried several times, to say nothing of the poor shrubs. At least the mountains of clean, white snow are pretty to look at.

Once I finish my first driveway — remember, mine is U-shaped — then I still have another one to do. The second is more difficult because I don't want to blast snow onto the neighbor’s driveway, meaning I have to constantly adjust the blower chute.

When all that’s completed, there is still the mailbox to plow out, then the steps and walkways, and finally I'm finished. Unfortunately, the snowblower doesn't clear right to the asphalt, meaning there is always a little bit left to clean up manually.

Sometimes I do it with the pusher shovel, but most times I just let it go because I'm too tired to deal with it. Then, of course, it ices over and I have a skating rink in the driveway. An ice pick and rock salt are always on hand to deal with that.

I always clean off the snowblower before putting it away, using an old car windshield snow-scraper for the job. Never put your hands anywhere near the augers (the spinning parts that blow the snow) on a jammed snowblower if the engine is running; even when it's off, you need to be extra careful around the augers.

You'd think this would be obvious, but talk to anyone who works in a hospital emergency room, and they'll tell you snowblower injuries do happen. That's the main reason I never pushed my kids to use power equipment when they were young; I'd rather just get the workout and not have to worry about them.

My snowblower is over 15 years old and still starts on one or two pulls. Here's the secret: Every year before you put it away, drain all the gas out of it, change the oil, clean it thoroughly, spray it all down with WD-40, and put it in a safe place.

Every other year, do the same thing but also take off the bottom plate, grease all the shafts and gears, and oil the cables. Follow this simple routine and you'll think you have a new snowblower every year. I still like mine a lot but new ones have heated handgrips so, if you see mine for sale, that's why.

This was surely one of those winters where you don't miss having a gym membership.