Every winter in Alaska we have a period of time where it warms up, often raining, leaving us with ice on top of snow. This happens 3 or 4 times each winter here in Anchorage, and we are going through it right now. Much of the snow has melted, but temperatures around freezing along with rain have converted what’s left into ice. Our roads have been so bad that schools have been closed twice in the past week!

The best way to keep your steps, driveways, and sidewalks safe is to remove the ice. When it’s warm, the old fashioned hand-removal of ice works best. Use a metal shovel or an ice chipper to break up the ice and remove it. Sometimes this isn’t practical, or the ice is too thick. In this case it’s best to use something to give traction instead of trying to melt the ice. Ice melts have several negatives, including the fact that many of them are toxic to pets. If you have dogs or children, make sure your ice melt is safe for them. Another issue is that if the ice is too thick it won’t melt through, so you may end up with water on top of ice making the problem worse. Most ice melts also contain some form of salt, which can pit concrete and kill grass and plants.

I prefer to use items that give traction on the ice instead of ice melt. We have a really long driveway, so when it gets really bad we call a sanding truck to spray it with sand and gravel. For steps and sidewalks there are several great non-toxic options. My favorites are traction sand (you can get large bags for under $10…this is a coarser sand than playground sand), clay-based cat litter and coarse corn meal. An additional benefit to corn meal is that the birds can feast on it! This time of year I will usually carry either a bag of sand or a bag of cat litter in the back of my vehicle in case I get stuck and need some traction. It’s especially important to keep steps and walkways either clear of ice or give traction when your home is for sale. If your home is vacant, you might want to have a neighbor or a sanding company come by when the roads get icy. There is nothing that can ruin curb appeal and first impressions to a buyer more than a nasty fall on the ice!