How to Walk in the Snow

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How to Walk in the Snow Without Falling (Much)

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

I thought when I moved to Colorado, people would know how to walk in the snow without falling. They’re used to it, right?

Not so. In fact, in every area of the country I’ve practiced, some of the worst breaks, bruises, cuts, and dislocations come from people slipping down in the snow. Sometimes they’re in a hurry, like shopping, or like you would be in an emergency.

Okay, I’ll admit it. Many years ago, I was running to an ambulance, slipped on the one piece of ice still left over from a freeze, and broke my ankle. I wasn’t much help after that.

In a previous post on my old website,, Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, a knee and hip orthopedic doctor from Mt. Sinai hospital in New York, gave his winter walking tips to avoid serious injuries:

  1. Move your feet ever so slightly apart as you walk, for more balance.
  2. If the area is really slippery, bend your knees slightly as you walk.
  3. When walking down a slippery slope, walk sideways, but do not cross one foot over the other. Bend your knees slightly.
  4. Protect your dominant arm so if you fall, you won’t be fully bracing with it. You can do this by grabbing on to the lapel of your coat or using that hand for carrying.
  5. Be especially careful when exiting trains, buses, or cars.

Also, just take it slow, and make use of any rails to hold onto. Around here in Colorado, people use walking canes, even ski poles, if they take a stroll on a snowy day.

Yaktrax are like snow chains for your shoes.

>> The Survival Doctor’s Guides—don’t get stuck without them. <<

One other thing. I have a pair of Yaktrax. (See the picture to the right.) I bought them at a sporting goods store. They’re kind of like snow chains for the feet. There are other brands that I expect work as well. They consist of strips of rubber with metal pieces on the bottom and slip on to my shoes. I’ve never slipped down while wearing a pair. (Of course, that’s still following all the above advice.)

What about you? Have you ever fallen in the snow? Do you have anything to add on how to walk in the snow?


Photo by Gregory Bastien on Flickr.
The Yaktrax links are affiliate links.

  • Pingback: The Top 10 Most Popular Winter-Safety Posts of the Year()

  • John

    Waddle. That is to say, keep your center of gravity directly above your planted foot. This is what penguins do. Ever seen a penguin slip and fall?

    • Old Grey Fox

      And all this time I thought that they had little “suction cups” on the bottom of their feet.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, John.

  • http://none Dede

    Hi, in the old days they would take a coffee can and cut a piece that fitted under their boots. They would take a nail and put all nails holes in the metal and tie that around their boots. Others would screw short nails on their heels and side of the sole. They had no money but got along just fine. Dede

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Dede.

  • Deana

    One night, about 3 years ago, I walked outside to check the road to see how bad it was. The town I lived in didn’t take very good care of the streets in bad weather and I wanted to know if my mother needed to stay in a hotel or not for the night. I hit the side walk and immediately fell. I didn’t bother going to the street. I figured if the sidewalk was that bad and we had been salting, the street was horrible. For about 2 months after that my bottom hurt so bad. If I went over the tiniest bump while in the car, it shot horrible pain up my tail bone. Even now if I sit on hard chairs too long it hurts.

    Your tips are great. I usually just try to avoid pavement as much as possible when it is icy.

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Deana, good idea. Thanks for sharing. Yes, those injured tailbones can hurt for a while.

      • Deana

        I’m just lucky that I didn’t actually break anything!

  • Shari

    Yep, I’ve fallen on ice – TWICE – and broke my right wrist each time. Now I own 3 pairs of Yaktrax. A pair for the house, one pair for school (work) and another pair in the car!

    My question about keeping my dominant arm busy is that if I were to fall again wouldn’t I hit my head? I think I’d rather have a broken wrist than a head injury.


    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Good point, Shari. I guess the idea is you can brace a little, not a lot. Or if you fall, on your backend. But some falls are going to just end up with bad outcomes no matter what.

  • old RT

    When I lived in North Central Montana (where there is 5 months of winter at times) I had 2 incidents of falls. One was at work at the local hospital, while walking in the parking lot on thick ice snow crust, I saw the Maintenence Man also coming in to work. We both were walking carefully (we thought, sort of flat footed/ old man shuffle) He hit a slippery spot and went down flat and as I saw him I also found my own slippy spot and did the same thing ! We both got up looked at each other and said we wouldnt tell anyone !

    The 2nd time was while taking the trash out. I had to step down about 3 steps from garage to patio to go to trash cans. The steps were covered with packed snow (and ice under) I “thought” I was stepping carefully but as I put my weight on the last step Ifelt my foot slip and down I went! Banging my butt/back on the bottom step before reaching flat surface, as I fell the trash bag I was carrying sort of flew up and then came down on me. I laided there a few seconds evaluating myself for injuries. Head, ok, arms/legs, ok, back, sore now I could feel everything. I had obviously made some noise as I fell becasue my wife was now looking at me from the door. She, obviously concerned if I was hurt, asked me what she could do to help me? I said In a calm voice, ” maybe get the trash off me?” Except for some embarrassment and sore spots I recovered well.

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks RT. They say things come in threes, so be careful and watch out.

  • Deb

    Well, it IS a small world. I remember you from your practice in Verona,MS!!!!

  • Addy Rae

    I fell stepping down out of a bus, and I slipped most of the way under it. People waiting to get on had to fish me out because I was wearing a backpack and I got caught on something, and it was so slippery I couldn’t get leverage to pull myself out. Hugely embarrassing for sure, but very scary. The sad thing is I had decided to ride the bus that day because it was so slippery and I was afraid I would fall on the hills on campus.

    I fell another time while trying to get in my car and slammed into my doorway. The entire car shifted and I ended up caught under the edge by my door with the door wide open. I had to peel a chunk of cosmetic plastic at the bottom of the door off to get loose. That took about a half an hour. I was out working on someone’s back forty, and there was no one around to rescue me. Thankfully, I had dressed warmly, and the car shielded me from most of the wind so I was just angry and scared, not chilled, when I got loose.

    After this fall my mother in law got me a set of Yaktrax, and I’ve done well since. Slid now and then, but no dramatic or dangerous falls!

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Addy, that’s some pretty scary falls. You’re lucky to have not gotten hurt worse. Maybe you just need to stay away from vehicles on icy days. :)

      • Addy Rae

        I try to avoid going out when it’s slippery. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin that’s most of the winter. We do take care to keep the driveway clear and dry in addition to the sidewalks though! :)

  • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

    Thanks, Allo. Or you could subscribe in the yellow box on this page. Either way, thanks for your support and comments.

  • allo vera

    Thanks for this. I am still not getting your posts on my page all the time so I am going to visit your timeline to keep up to date.