Winter has been so mild, with so many seductive previews of spring, that it seems churlish to suggest we may still see some snow before the first robins and dandelions.
Over the years, we've had some major dumps in February and March. Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog, saw his shadow earlier this month, and you know what that means. More convincing still: Accu-Tony, the paper's in-house weather sage, told me not to write off Old Man Winter yet.
Thus the timing of today's topic: two nifty human-powered snow-removal devices guaranteed to do the job quickly and efficiently while giving you a dandy workout.
As faithful readers know, I'm a tireless advocate of functional fitness. First, it means achieving a level of fitness that enables you to function optimally, to work, play, and suck the marrow out of every day. Second, it means engaging in an activity - such as commuting to the office by bike - that accomplishes something while contributing to your fitness.
As a teenager, I used to clear our Gladwyne sidewalk with a blade attached to two wheels with a lawnmower-like handle. For years, I've been searching for something similar, and I found it in the Snow Pusher Plus.
This clever tool was conceived by LaVell Asay, a Utah jack-of-all-trades. He experimented and eventually designed a device that consisted of a small plow blade mounted on lawn mower wheels and guided by a lawn mower handle. With it, he could clear the entire block's sidewalk in less time and with less effort than it took him to shovel the sidewalk in front of his house.
With the help of his wife and friends, he perfected the device and began offering it for sale. I've been using it for several winters and I'm a satisfied customer.
To begin with, the Snow Pusher Plus is simple and sturdy, without moving parts that can slice off your fingers. Nor does it require gas and oil, or make obnoxious noise and exhaust. It disposes of powdery snow effortlessly and does a superior job with wet snow, scraping surfaces clean. It's light, and the handle height and blade angle are adjustable. Since the wheels bear the weight, it's easy on your back. But because you supply the power, you'll get plenty of exercise. When the snow is deeper than a foot, pushing the plow can require some oomph. Afterward, I usually feel deliciously sore in my chest, shoulders, and back.
Removing snow more easily also spurred Howie Rosenshine. In the winter of 1993, while trying to clear knee-high mounds, "it dawned on me," says Rosenshine, 53, of Downingtown, a former engineer and programmer at Sun Microsystems, "that I needed an extra handle."
He clamped a rigid handle midway on the shaft of his snow shovel, but it needed some give. "It was like throwing a baseball and suddenly stopping in mid-hurl." He then tried adding a hinge at the attachment point, but it was hard to control and required effort to reposition for the next scoop.
Rosenshine kept experimenting, fastening the handle attachment with a torsional spring, which he patented. Last year, he let me try a prototype and I was impressed. Since then, he's improved the product yet again, replacing the solid shaft with a strong strip of spring steel.
Rosenshine manufactures the shovel attachment - dubbed Shovelution - in his basement and garage. (His daughter, Sarah, 24, an aspiring comedy writer, came up with the name and slogan - "Let Your Shovel Do the Bending"). With limited advertising, he has sold about 100 since December, including one to a customer in Norway.
Adding the Shovelution to a straight-shaft snow shovel makes it ergonomic, Rosenshine says. Besides sparing your back, it engages the stronger muscles of your upper body rather than your weaker biceps and triceps. It also requires roughly 50 percent fewer shoveling motions and completes a shoveling cycle three times faster than a conventional shovel.
The Shovelution captures the "wasted" energy from throwing snow and uses it to return the shovel to the starting point, ready for the next throw, Rosenshine says. It also enables you to switch sides when lifting and throwing, thus evening stress on your entire body, including your back, and reducing strain and injury.
And if winter continues to be benign, the Shovelution can be adapted to gardening tools, such as spades and turning forks. Says Rosenshine: "I know someone who's using it to clean chicken coops."