This has been a most challenging winter, especially for folks like me in their upper decades who’ve had to contend not only with pandemic-induced loneliness and limitations but also with streets piled high with snow and sidewalks coated with ice.
I take my little dog to the park for his off-leash run every morning, and often have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me navigate paths glazed with ice so I could get back home in one piece.
I not-so-silently curse the neighbors who high-tailed it to their country retreats for the Covid-restricted winter without arranging to have their sidewalks shoveled whenever it snowed, which it has done with a particular vengeance in New York City this February.
Many in my neighborhood who did shovel created only a narrow path for walkers and failed to clear the snow from the inner part of the sidewalk, where some of it periodically melted during the day and refroze at night, leaving a slick of black ice for pedestrians to slip and fall on in the morning. An elderly friend who lives alone landed on one of those icy patches and broke her wrist, a challenging injury, but at least her hips and head remained intact.
It’s not that I don’t know how to walk on icy surfaces. I review the guidelines every winter and thought I was well equipped, but I may have been lulled into complacency by last year’s relatively mild winter and failed to pay adequate attention to what to put on my feet. The other morning I changed my boots three times without finding a pair able to keep me reliably upright over snowy, slushy and icy terrain, despite them all having supposedly good rubber treads.
Perhaps I should have consulted the Farmer’s Almanac for 2021. Had I anticipated how bad it could get I might have checked the laboratory-tested advice on the best anti-slip footwear from a research team at the Kite Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-UHN. It would have alerted me to the fact that none of the boots in my closet are really much good, especially for someone my age facing the conditions I’ve encountered on Brooklyn streets and Prospect Park this winter.
Aiming to keep Canadian bones intact during long icy winters, in 2016 the team, headed by Geoff Fernie, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, tested 98 different types of winter boots, both work and casual, and found that only 8 percent of them met the lab’s minimum standard of slip resistance.
Using what it calls the Maximum Achievable Angle testing method, the team evaluated slip resistance of footwear in a winter-simulated indoor laboratory with an icy floor that can be tilted at increasing angles. While attached to a harness to prevent a real fall when they slip, participants wearing the shoes being tested walk on the ramp uphill and downhill over bare ice or melting ice. Shoes that prevent slippage with the ramp set at an angle of at least seven degrees get a single snowflake rating. Two snowflakes are awarded for non-slippage at 11 degrees, and three snowflakes for 15 degrees. But 90 types of footwear initially tested by 2016 failed to get any snowflakes, and none got more than one snowflake.
Things have improved in the past few years, with 65 percent of boots tested in 2019 getting at least one snowflake, Dr. Fernie said in an interview. The latest ratings, which are updated continually, can be found online at ratemytreads.com.
He explained that two types of outer soles, Arctic Grip and Green Diamond, provide the best traction on ice. Green Diamond acts like rough sandpaper, with hard grit incorporated into the rubber sole, that works best on cold hard ice. Arctic Grip soles contain microscopic glass fibers that point downward to give firm footing on wet ice. You might be able to find a few brands that use both technologies in the same sole to achieve protection on both hard and wet ice.
Alas, I tried too late in the current snow-and-ice season to locate a pair in my size of any of the top-rated boots Dr. Fernie’s lab tested. So for now I’ll have to rely on the Yaktrax pull-on cleats I bought years ago and struggle to get them onto my existing shoes.