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Today's snow blowers, shovels make tough tasks much easier

Scoop or push. Plastic or metal. Shovel or snow blower. Now or later.

When it comes to snow-removal equipment, like shovels or snow blowers, options have multiplied.Mike Ballard, assistant manager for the Sutherlands home center on North Temple and Redwood Road, notes that the shovel itself has evolved over the years.

You can lift snow or push it, for example, the later having become a selling point because many say it's better on your back. Pushing shovels are usually smaller at one end and curved, like a street plow; the bend "kind of throws it off as you push," Ballard says.

Some also come with bent or curved handles. "With these you basically don't have to lift as high, and don't use your back as much - you use your legs more." He bought one of these last year and was pleased with it.

Another consideration is plastic or metal. If you prefer the usually lighter plastic, make sure it has a metal strip along the bottom, which will help the edge last longer, Ballard says.

Snow shovels usually cost $9 and up, he notes. Add the extra features, like the plow curves or bent handles, and the price jumps to $20 to $30. Nevertheless, the innovations are popular: "We sell out of both the plow shape and the bent handle (models) every year," Ballard says. "Sales are increasing yearly."

Basic snow blowers - with say 3-horsepower, 2-cycle engines and pull or electric starters - begin at around $300. Take it up to 41/2, 5 or 8 horsepower and the cost jumps to $600 to $900. There's also an electric snow shovel, which simply throws the snow, that runs about $125, Ballard says.

One thing to consider, he adds, is whether you want an electric or nonelectric starter. He recommends going electric. Pulling and pulling again, as on a stubborn lawn mower, "can wear you out as much as the snow blowing," he says. Also consider a model with a nonclogging shoot. "If the metal clogs up, you have a bigger mess than you started with." Sutherland's main model has a square instead of a round shoot, which can be too smooth and allow ice and snow buildup, as well as an auger system.

Another factor is the depth and water weight of the snow we get. Some of these pieces of equipment help little in heavy snow, Ballard says. When it piles up, push shovels will not do the job, for instance. And electric shovels that do little more than the same thing will not be able to deal with the heavy stuff.

Of course, few of us are really thinking "snow" quite yet, although home improvement centers and neighborhood hardware stores have begun advertising campaigns.

"We're definitely not into the rush," Ballard says. People don't think about shovels and snow blowers "until the big snow hits. Then everyone's frantic to get them - and everybody in town sells out of them.

"If people would think about it ahead of time it would be a lot better" -advice applicable to most every pre-winter chore.