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How not to fall on the ice

  • Two women are framed by icicles and mounds of frozen ice as they walk along a beach in Chicago, Illinois, January 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young
Two women are framed by icicles and mounds of frozen ice as they walk along…
January 22, 2014|By Rachel Cromidas, @rachelcromidas | RedEye

It’s time for the other March of the Penguins.


Many a Chicagoan has been there--when the mad dash for the evening bus turns into slapstick comedy as commuters slip, slide and fall on the neverending network of icy sidewalks this winter.


Record cold snaps and the return of the polar vortex are bringing more ice to city streets, but that doesn't mean anyone should be busting ass if it can be avoided. 

While we were shuffling around our carpeted office Wednesday afternoon, RedEye called on experts in walking on slick surfaces (yes, they exist) to tell us how it's done:


1. Walk like a penguin

“The challenge is, most of us walk with very big strides that take our center of gravity away from us, making it really easy to slip,”  said Ken Ramirez, the executive vice president of animal care and training at the Shedd Aquarium.

“Taking little tiny steps like penguins do can be really helpful. Even when you’re in a hurry, you just have to take small steps, and you’ll get there faster because you won’t be falling.”

2. Imagine you're a glass of water?

Tom Moose, 31, a sales lead at the R.E.I. in Lincoln Park, said people should imagine a glass of water and shift their weight delicately. 

“If you think about it, walking and running is basically just falling when you catch yourself,” he said. “Think of walking like pouring water from one glass to another. That's how you should pour your weight into your next foot.”


3. Special footgear would be nice

Moose, who has hiked the grueling Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, said his go-to plan for preventing bad winter slips includes a product called Yak Trax, which are stainless steel coils that can be strapped over shoes to create more friction between feet and the slippery ground. The product is designed for walkers, runners and other winter athletes.


Whether one wants to invest in extra foot gear for navigating the trek from apartment to train or not, Moose recommends people pay careful attention to the bottoms of their shoes.


“Any sort of [rubber] sole is going to be stickier than anything else, but if you wear all the tread off your shoes, you’re out of luck,” he said. For example, “the bottom of a running shoe is going to be much flatter because you’re trying to move fast.”


4. Don't get cocky

Jennifer Hsu, a doctoral candidate at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, who researches shoes that help limit ice slips, said people often slip when they get too confident with their footing on ice.


“Frequency of slips is helped by cleats, but when you do slip you actually can have quite a big dangerous slip,” she said. “We think that’s because when you wear [cleats] you gain a sense of confidence in them, and rather than walking like a penguin your walk is a bit more risky than it should be.”


Hsu also recommends people slow their walk, planning for extra time to get where they need to go, take smaller steps and walk “flat-footed” by striking the ground with the entire foot, as opposed to the heel or the ball of the foot.

Of course, not even the best shoes will save someone who isn’t using common sense.


“You have to be aware,” she said. “Even if you have very good shoes, if the snow doesn’t clear from the bottom of the shoe, you’re just walking with snow on top of a slippery surface--and that will be extremely slippery.”

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