How to Walk On Snow and Ice

Boot footprints in the snow

Last week in a Pilates class for people with scoliosis and spinal fusions a client asked me how to walk on snow and ice in the winter.  And then another client excitedly chimed in expressing the same question.  Many of us with scoliosis find balance a challenge in ideal conditions.  Snow and ice make things much more complicated.

Here’s a few tips for how to walk on snow and ice as safely as possible!

Choose Footwear Wisely

Maximum Achievable Angle Method

The KITE Research Institute believes that choosing the right footwear can reduce and prevent unintentional slips and falls.  The researchers at the KITE Research Institute developed a way to measure slip resistance in footwear through a method called the Maximum Achievable Angle (MAA) Test.  Essentially, an individual walks back and forth across a surface made entirely of ice. Researchers increase the angle of the surface until the person slips, but don’t worry they are wearing a safety harness so there’s no actual falling.  The angle prior to the slip is considered the maximum achievable angle. 

The footwear then receives a score:
❄️ Footwear passes an angle of 7 degrees ❄️❄️ Footwear passes an angle of 11 degrees ❄️❄️❄️ Footwear passes an angle of 15 degrees ✅ Wet ice ✅ Cold ice

You can check out the ratings for various footwear here.

Ice Cleats

Ice cleats are something that you affix to your regular shoes or boots.  They usually have small spikes underneath that create additional traction.  Some ice cleats are made for cityscape while other for more rugged outdoor terrain.  Read Wirecutter’s  The Best Ice Cleats for Shoes or Consumer Report’s Best Ice Cleats.

Walk Like a Penguin

Another tip for how to walk on snow and ice is to walk like a penguin.  This means turning the toes slightly out, taking the legs further apart to widen the base of support, walking flat footed, and taking shorter steps.  Keep your hands out of your pockets, and allow your arms to help with balance.  Remember to wear gloves and don’t hesitate to use handrails on stairs and ramps.  Check out this video on How to Walk Like a Penguin.

Penguin walking on snow and ice

Use a Backpack

Use a backpack to carry things in the winter.  A backpack may help prevent us from carrying heavy packages that might affect our balance and obstruct our view.  A backpack keeps the arms free so they can assist with balance and walking like a penguin.  It also allows our hands and arms to protect us just in case we do fall. 

Woman with black backpack outside in the snow

More Tips for How to Walk on Snow and Ice

  • Bring a fully charged cell phone to keep in your pocket.
  • Avoid texting or talking while walking.
  • Plan ahead so you have ample time and can take it slow.
  • If there’s no rail on slippery steps, go down sideways.
  • If you use a cane, fit the end with an ice pick. This is usually referred to as a carbonite ice pick tip.
  • Consider Nordic walking poles fitted with ice picks. These are also referred to as a carbonite ice pick tips.
  • Avoid melting ice and assume all wet, dark spots are icy.
  • Learn how to fall just in case. Keep an eye out for classes in your area.  Read The Right Way to Fall or How to Fall Without Injury.