We got about three inches of nuisance snow last night, and as I breezed through the rink clean-up today, I thought I’d let you all in on a little backyard rink secret: I cleaned my 40×56 rink in about 20 minutes without using a shovel or a snow blower. Instead, I used my little secret weapon, the one tool I’ve used probably more than all others these last five winters. I used my little 21″ snow thrower.
What’s the difference between a snow blower and a snow thrower? Glad you asked. We’re all familiar with snow blowers – those heavy, rugged, rooster-tail-creating driveway killers that you’ll hear en masse on any residential street during and after a storm. Snow blowers are lined up outside every cold-weather hardware store like soldiers awaiting battle, and the price tags on the cheapest gas-powered models inch towards four digits. Snow blowers work on a two-stage system: the first stage sucks the snow into the blades, and the second (by way of a small impeller) shoots the snow dozens of feet into the air (and off your rink or driveway). Snow blowers are also typically self-powered, meaning they have a self-propelling system that does not rely on you, the human, to move it. Snow throwers, on the other hand, are like the little brother to the snow blower. Snow throwers are single-stage, meaning the blades that suck in the snow also propel it out of the shoot. Snow throwers are also not self-propelling, though many utilize an “auger-assist” system that utilizes the blades to help move the unit forward. In other words, the same blades that chew up the snow and spit it out also help to move the unit forward.
So now we know that a snow blower is heavier-duty, is self-propelled, shoots snow further, and can be used for deeper snow. So why am I telling you to consider a snow thrower? Two main reasons: easy of portability and price.
The model I received, a Yard Machines 21″ snowthrower, came in at under $380, which isn’t necessarily cheap, but is about half the price of a mid-range snow blower. It’s 21″ wide and will clear snow up to 6″ deep, which, here in New Hampshire, means it works on about 80% of the storms we get. But the best part, at least for me, was the weight. The model I have comes in at under 70lbs, meaning it’s perfect to carry across the yard, over the boards, and onto my rink. No ramps needed to get it onto and off of. No taking up a parking space in the garage. And small and light enough to toss in the back of the SUV to help out your rinkbuilding neighbors. The lack of a motor to the wheels isn’t much of an issue either, and I actually think it helps. There’s no fumbling with levers or knobs to adjust speed (cue mental image of every infomercial ever) — if you want it to go faster, just walk faster. Simplicity has its place.
As for when to use it, there is a pretty clear line of demarcation between when to use a snow thrower and when to use a snow blower, and it’s at about 6″ of snow. Less than that, and the snowthrower makes quick work of my 40×56 slab. Because the snow thrower won’t shoot snow as far as a snow blower, I typically start in the middle of the rink and go back and forth the long way, shooting snow out towards the edges. By the time I reached the outer perimeter of the rink, the snow is a bit deeper, but is easily shot clear of the boards with a few final passes. The thrower has a rubber blade, so there is virtually no ice damage, even when it creeps up near 32 degrees and the ice surface is soft. After a cleaning with the thrower, it’s as simple as a quick flood with just the hose to even out the surface and I’m ready for the next batch of cold air.
The snow blower will always have a place in the rinkbuilder’s arsenal — for larger storms, it’s your only real option. But for my money (and my time, and my back), my Yard Machines snow thrower is my secret backyard rink weapon.
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