Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Taking snow removal to the second level in Minnesota March 1, 2018

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Randy blows snow off our driveway following a February 2014 storm. This winter has been similar in snow and cold to that of four years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.


IF RESIDENTIAL SNOW REMOVAL in Minnesota involved simply clearing driveways and sidewalks, our work would be easier.


In this image, you can see the depth of snow on the roof.


But when snow accumulates and no January thaw arrives to reduce the snow pack, we start thinking about problems like too much snow on roofs and those damaging ice dams.



Sunday afternoon, after our most recent 4-inch snowfall the day prior, Randy pulled out the ladder and climbed to the flatter section of our house roof. He had about 18 inches of accumulated snow to scoop and toss from roof to ground. After awhile, he was working up a sweat in the bright sunshine.



Just inside the kitchen, I watched him labor. I’ll shovel snow, but only if it’s on the ground.



My job was to monitor my husband, to see that he stayed safe and didn’t overdo the shoveling. Now that we’re in our sixties, I tend to think more about how shoveling can cause heart attacks and back issues. And then there is that slipping and falling off the roof factor to consider. Randy seems mostly to ignore my concerns. I wish he wouldn’t.


Randy guides our ancient snowblower along the driveway following a late January snowfall of about 15 inches. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.


Already that day he’d fired up the snowblower to clear snow from our sidewalk and that of three neighbors and also blew snow from our drive and a neighbor’s. I shoveled steps and walks and followed with clean-up. Our snowblower is bulky and heavy and so aged it should probably be in a museum. Has any Minnesota museum ever done an exhibit on how Minnesotans deal with snow? That could be interesting, tracing the history of how that process has evolved. There’s the fashion aspect, the equipment facet, the weather factor…



With the sun shining and temps rising into the balmy forty-ish range this week, all of Randy’s rooftop shoveling paid off with shingles now visible and ice dams melting. We’re good until more snow stacks and temps plunge. Next week.

TELL ME: If you live in a snowy state like Minnesota, how do you handle snow on the roof and ice dams? If you don’t have to deal with these issues, feel free to comment anyway.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Up on the rooftop shoveling snow February 10, 2016

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Shoveling snow off roof, 68


WHEN YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, not only do you have to shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways, but also from roofs. That is if too much snow accumulates on your rooftop and/or ice dams form.


Shoveling snow off roof, 67


Typically every winter, we face those problems, which require my husband to haul out the ladder and climb atop the south facing house and garage roofs to shovel away snow.


Shoveling snow off roof, 69


Sunday afternoon, when the air temp was at a relatively comfortable level for winter, he scooped snow from the house roof. I am always watchful of his movement, lest he slip and tumble off.

Thankfully this section of our roof is sloped only slightly, unlike the sharp-pitched section covering the rest of the structure. When he scales that two-story high area to clear leaves from gutters or to adjust the rooftop TV antenna, I’m nervous. I’ll admit that. He’s not young any more. But even youth doesn’t protect from falls. The last time our roof was shingled (due to defective shingles), I didn’t have to lobby, much to my surprise, for hiring professional roofers.

I digress.

But there are days I wish we lived in a rambler.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mining ice in Minnesota January 2, 2011

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The icicles and ice dams on our house, before my husband began chiseling away at the ice.


Removing ice dams via a hammer and chisel may not be the quickest and easiest way to accomplish ice removal, but it’s certainly the least expensive method (unless you fall and injury yourself, of course).

On Thursday, when temperatures here in southern Minnesota hovered around a balmy 40 degrees, the hardy Minnesotans in my neighborhood took to their ladders. They knew this was their single chance to pick away at the monstrous ice dams threatening their homes.

A view I took through the kitchen window of my husband on the ladder, chiseling at ice damns.

First, Bob across the street hammered for hours at the ice on his porch roofline. I didn’t worry about him until I saw him climb onto his roof and then stand there like he didn’t quite know how to get down. I kept the cell phone close by, just in case. But eventually he swung his leg around, planted his foot firmly on a ladder rung and descended cautiously to the icy ground.

A few hours later, in the dark of early evening, my husband planted his ladder in the backyard snow mountain, climbed a few rungs until he could reach the ice-dammed eave troughs and began hammering and chiseling away.

Occasionally I would peer out the window or door, checking on his progress, but mostly checking to see that he hadn’t slipped from the ladder.

For some two hours he hammered and tossed huge chunks of ice from the roof. I’ve never been to Antarctica, but I can only imagine our yard now resembles a mini version of a broken ice shelf with chunks of ice strewn haphazardly atop the snow. But better the ice littering our yard than weighing heavy upon the house.

While my husband-miner mined, the next-door neighbor also attempted ice removal. I don’t know that she’s cut out to be a miner as the clink, clink, clink didn’t continue for long. But then again, her mine (house) doesn’t appear to have the same rich, natural deposit of ore (ice) as our mine (house).

Ice dam chunks litter the backyard snow mountain.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A practical use for icicles from snowy Minnesota December 27, 2010

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I HAD THIS EPIPHANY, this brilliant moment, the other night as I watched my husband swing his scoop shovel at icicles hanging from the house roofline.

He had just descended the ladder after scooping several snowstorms worth of snow from the roof when he began knocking mega icicles from the ice-dammed eave troughs with his shovel. Clank. Clank. Clank.

For days I had admired the growing length of those icicles, the longest of which stretched to perhaps six feet. What extraordinary weapons they would make for sword fights, I thought.

But, the practical homeowner in me realized we needed to remove the weaponry to protect the fort, AKA our house.


Ice dams and icicles on the west side of our house.

So, Thursday afternoon I walked across the street to borrow a roof rake from my neighbor. For perhaps 45 minutes I floundered in thigh deep snow banks, pulling snow from the house and garage roofs until I felt like my arms would fall off.

I also knocked down as many of those icicles as I possibly could until I came dangerously close to also knocking out the bathroom window.


I nearly hit the bathroom window while removing snow and icicles from the house.

Anyway, back to that light bulb moment.

“Do we have any ice for the cooler?” I hollered to my husband as he hammered away at the icicles I had missed during my earlier reckless attempt at destroying the ice build-up. By this time, the attack with a scoop shovel method was no longer working.

He looked at me with skepticism, wondering, I’m sure, what exceptionally brilliant idea I had now. I don’t like to boast, but my idea to use icicles, in lieu of purchased, bagged ice, to cool food in a cooler rated as an environmental, cost-saving good use of natural resources. (We needed ice to keep our food cold as we traveled on Christmas Eve.)

Fortunately for me, I have a husband who doesn’t always dismiss my seemingly crazy ideas.

I dragged a cooler up from the basement, handed it outside to him and he continued hammering the ice until we had a whole cooler full of icicles.


My husband begins the task of harvesting icicles with a hammer.

Ice chips fly as Randy breaks the icicles into smaller chunks that will fit into the cooler.

The cooler was only half full of icicle chunks when frozen fingers led me to stop photographing the ice harvest.

Our teenage son made some comment about saving the ice until summer, putting a modern day spin on the concept of harvesting lake ice and packing it in sawdust inside an ice house.

Now, if you were to peek inside the chest freezer in my basement, you would find, um, yes, broken segments of icicles that will work perfectly for chilling beverages this summer.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling