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Alaska Life

Want tips on how to keep from falling on the ice? Ask Alaskans.

  • Author: Julia O'Malley
  • Updated: November 22, 2018
  • Published November 21, 2018

Renardo Felipe Fox negotiates a very icy sidewalk next to Tudor Road, Nov. 21, 2018 on his way to the busstop. Fox had just finished a job interview and was making his way home to start preparing for Thanksgiving. Many sidewalks, roads, parking lots and trails are solid ice. (Anne Raup / ADN)

It’s another unusually warm early-winter season. (November’s average temperature so far has been 7 degrees higher than the usual average, according to the National Weather Service. October was 10 degrees warmer.)

Above-freezing temps during the day and freezing nights make for lots of ice. And ice makes Anchorage parking lots, trails, roads and sidewalks treacherous. This weather pattern is not supposed to let up for at least a week. So how can we keep from falling? We asked Alaskans on Facebook. Here’s some of their advice.

Know your ice melt

There are things you might not know about that granular ice melt that comes in the bucket and sits by so many front doors. First off, it’s not all the same. The type used by road service crews in Fairbanks, for example, is different from that used in Anchorage. Read the label and look for ice melt meant for your specific temperature conditions.

Also, just because a product melts ice does not mean it increases the traction. Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center makes a product called Arctic Grip, which is designed to increase traction with potash (as opposed to Arctic Melt, which melts the ice). Some readers recommended making your own traction/melt combo by mixing ice melt with pea gravel or sand. (The pea gravel camp says it’s easier than sand to clean up when it gets tracked inside.)

Another thing to know about ice melt is that more isn’t better. Experts at Mill Feed & Garden Center say about 8 ounces per square yard is enough. (Consider applying it with a coffee cup or, for a large area, use a fertilizer spreader.)

A very prudent reader tip: Reuse a Parmesan shaker as a portable ice melt dispenser for your car or purse. Then you can give a little shake if you wind up in a slippery parking spot.

Ice melt in a reused Parmesan cheese shaker.

Kimberly McCourtney, vice president and employee owner of Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center, carries two 25-pound bags of ice melt in her car. They give the car extra weight, which helps with traction, and they can come in handy if her car gets stuck on the ice.

Parking lot tricks

A lot of people encounter their most dangerous situations in iced-over parking lots, driveways or sidewalks. Readers recommended walking like a penguin, arms outstretched, feet facing out, taking small steps. [Here’s a video.]

You can wear gloves so you aren’t tempted to put your hands in your pockets, which makes you less stable. Some people also use sturdy, metal-spiked trekking poles (handy if you already have them for hiking, but you can also find them at outdoor stores for between $50 and $100).

“I do think if you struggle balancing at all, it’s really nice to have a trekking pole because it keeps you steady,” said Rene Welty, manager at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking.

Negotiating a very icy sidewalk is tricky business. (Anne Raup / ADN)

A savvy parent reader said she keeps a large plastic tote in her van, puts her small children in it, and slides it over an icy parking lot to her destination rather than carrying them and running the risk of falling.

Getting into and out of the car is another time when people tend to get into trouble. One reader recommends making a handle to help keep you stable by threading a nylon dog collar through the driver-side window. It also helps if your door is frozen shut. [Here’s her tutorial.]

Footwear is everything, and there are a lot of options

Traction on your feet is key. Alaskans have a lot of opinions. When it comes to the type of grippers that slip on over shoes, some advised against the Yaktrax-style overshoe ice-grips, which use a wire wrapped around rubber as the traction device, instead favoring a studded option, like the STABILicers or NanoSpikes. Those options tend to run between $20 and $50.

Studded boots, like Icebugs, are an investment, but people swear by them.

“We say it’s cheaper than a doctor bill,” said Jen Yach, the accessories buyer at Skinny Raven.

Corbyn Jahn puts studs in a pair or running shoes at the Skinny Raven store in downtown Anchorage in 2014. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive)

Studded boots are available at numerous locations around Anchorage and run between $175 and $250. Another option readers suggested was a full studded overshoe, like Neos. But with studs comes the dilemma of what to do when you duck inside a grocery store and don’t want to scratch the floor or slip on polished vinyl. Shuzy Q started selling Attiba boots with retractable studs the last few years to get at that problem.

“We’re having a lot more icy winters and usually on account of longer and warmer falls,” said Shawna Rider, co-owner of ShuzyQ. “We have had these boots. ... It has really exploded just people’s awareness of them.”

Skinny Raven has seen more interest in the array of studded shoes they sell as well, Yach said. The shop will also stud any sturdy-soled shoe for $10. If you’re a senior or pregnant, they will do it for free, she said. You can also stud your shoes yourself. [Here’s a YouTube video.]

And a final warning to heed from punk rock readers: Wearing a rubber-soled boot that gets rigid in the cold, like those made by Doc Marten, is just asking for a fall.

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