Rollin’ in a Winter Wonderland

On the list of things that don’t go together, wheelchairs and snow has to be right up near the top with pins and ROHOs. Power chair users may have been emboldened enough by successfully tearing through light snow to brave the deeper drifts — only to come to the realization that tires tend to stop spinning when they’re buried in snow. On the flip side, manual chair users know that snow just multiplies the amount of effort they need to expend, further tilting an equation that is already heavily slanted in nature’s favor. So as the temperature drops every winter, chair users in snowy locales start watching the weather forecasts, hoping for clear skies and wondering if there is a better way to prepare this year.

Personally, I’ve always thought the ultimate solution would be a chair-mounted, military-grade flamethrower that would literally blaze a path wherever you needed to go. It’d have the added bonus of keeping you warm and could effortlessly clear snow-covered driveways and sidewalks. Sadly, my extensive research found no such prototypes, and I don’t have what it takes to build one. Luckily, other, more practical people have devised some solutions that may help you turn a snowy nightmare into a winter wonderland.

It could be the difference between getting to the store and getting stuck.

If you use a manual chair, the obvious first step is to look into new tires. Multiple manufacturers now make knobby tires with increased traction to help cut through the snow and ice. The added traction does come at a cost — the more traction the more difficult the pushing. Prices range from as low as $20 a pair to upwards of $1,000 for Colours giant-tube Fatso tires. If money is an issue, or if you’re simply looking for a more creative solution, you can make your own snow tires using simple household items like plastic ties or bungee cords. By simply tying/wrapping the ties or cords around your tires, you can significantly boost your traction (see sidebar). Wrapping your tires won’t turn your chair into an unstoppable snowmobile, but it could be the difference between getting to the store and getting stuck on an icy sidewalk.


Charlie Thomas shows off his Paraplow, which he uses to clear pathways on his property during snowy winters in the mountains of New Mexico.

Depending on the tires, wrapping can also work on some power chairs. But in my experience the result was more frustrating than empowering. In line with the flamethrower, it seemed like power chairs should have a — shall we say — more powerful option. Charlie Thomas had the same thought.

Thomas is a T3 para who lives in the East Mountains outside of Albuquerque, N.M. He’d dealt with the snow using a plow for years, and when he sold it in 2007 he had a revelation. “I thought, you know what, I need to make something for this chair,” he recalls. “I decided to put together something that would allow me to do my own walkway around the house and get out to my vehicle.” Using an old motorcycle seat, a handle from a sweeper and some extra aluminum siding, Thomas built the Paraplow, a snow plow for his chair.

The Paraplow sits in front of his footrest, attached to the frame of his Jazzy chair by bungee cords, and it cuts through the snow with ease. Thomas says he can plow up to 16-inch-high snow drifts, depending on the makeup of the snow. His website, wheelchairsnowplow.com, has videos showing him easily clearing paths in 5- to 6-inch deep snow. “It just spreads a pathway,” he says. “I’ve made wheelchair pathway trails all over my property.”

Thomas says that using the Paraplow to clear lots of snow can take a serious toll on the chair battery and emphasized that plowing is not a manufacturer-intended usage. “It’s kind of rough on the chair,” he says. “You’ve got to know your chair.” He is currently waiting to hear back on a patent application before fully delving into producing Paraplows, but said he has a number for sale.

DIY Snow Tires

  1. Get your hands on some sturdy plastic/nylon wire ties that are long enough to go around the thickness of your wheelchair’s tire and wheel. Too long is OK since you can
    cut the ends off.
  2. Tie 25 to 30 ties evenly around each wheel and tire of a manual wheelchair. Power wheelchairs and smaller tires will require less or may be limited by the wheel style so use your judgment on those.
  3. Make sure the tie heads (buckles) point slightly outward, as in the images to the right, and not downward under the tire. This will help dig snow while making for a smoother ride. Some users suggest putting the tie head on the inside (toward your body) to protect your hands and gloves.
  4. Cut the excess on each tie away, and you’re set.
  5. This doesn’t solve the front-end problem – casters and footplates digging into the snow. Some people have solved this with mini skis on the caster forks; others have had success
    with the FreeWheel.

Adapted from usatechguide.org/blog


Start with nylon cable ties – look for 6.5” or 8” with
50 lb. strength or more.

Wrap 25 to 30 ties around manual wheelchair wheels, as demonstrated on this bike
wheel.

Point the buckles to the side of the wheel — some say toward your body to save your hands and gloves.