Log In

Reset Password
News Education Local News Nation & World New Mexico

Shoveling snow and ice from Durango’s Sky Steps is one man’s way of caring for the community

Jim Shadell began clearing the 530 steps about four years ago to stay fit and keep people safe
Jim Shadell, 77, devotes two hours a day to clearing the snow and ice from Durango’s 530 Sky Steps. Up until last year he could clear them all in that time. He said he’s playing catch up this year because he’s getting old. (Garret Jaros/Durango Herald)

Tackling Durango’s Sky Steps in good weather is a workout with a view, but navigating them once they are covered in snow and ice can transform them into a stairway to heaven.

Making sure that doesn’t happen is where 77-year-old Jim Shadell and his snow shovel enter the picture – about halfway up – scooping and chipping away – bad sciatica and all.

“People walk the steps, run the steps – I shovel the steps” he said. “It’s just a different form of exercise. The problem is, I’m getting old and having back problems so if I don’t get ahead of it, it’s a lot more work because it gets compacted by people walking on the steps before I’m able to get the fresh snow off.”

Shadell took it upon himself to start shoveling the steps about four years ago. He lives in the neighborhood near the base of the steps. In the past he was an enthusiastic volunteer with Trails 2000 – known now as Durango Trails – he said by way of explaining why he donates a portion of his golden years manning the business end of a shovel.

“It’s kind of in my blood,” he said. “And we all do one kind of community service or another. This is one of the ones I choose to do.”

Shadell was at it again Wednesday afternoon, taking advantage of sunny skies and slightly warmer temperatures to pry his shovel under numerous ice-encrusted lips. With a bend at the waist and a bowed back he pried loose a good-sized chunk.

“This is what we are looking for, where the sun lets us get up under it,” he said holding up the frozen treasure like a proud miner.

A passing hiker who was making quick work of the steps Shadell had already cleared sang out “You’re a dream” as she descended the stairs. It wasn’t long before another passed and said, “Well hallelujah! That’s a great service – what a job!”

Shadell, who lives in the neighborhood, starts at the bottom and works his way up. He’s been clearing the steps of ice and snow for about four years. (Garret Jaros/Durango Herald)

Shadell has lived in Durango for 46 years. He was a postal worker for 26 of those years and retired in 2006. Walking 5 to 6 miles a day delivering mail kept him in shape, he said, and may help to explain why he still looks as lean as his aging snow shovel.

Besides being a good workout, Shadell started donating two hours of his day toward shoveling the stairs because he saw the need – and out of concern for public safety.

“I look at it as being kind of dangerous because you know, if you slip on those steps there’s a good chance that you’re going to hit your tailbone on the edge of a step,” he said.

This is the first year Shadell, who starts at the bottom and works his way up, hasn’t been able to clear all 530 steps and make the 250 feet of elevation gain in the two hours he allots to the task.

“When I was younger I caught the snow when it was fresh,” he said without a trace of irony that “younger” meant at age 76. “Now I’m older and didn’t get over here soon enough the first time it snowed. By the time I got here it was all icy. And I haven’t been able to catch up. I’m always behind.”

Although he acknowledges he made it about two-thirds of the way up on Tuesday. Shadell also gets a little help from time to time, including on Wednesday when Tom Maloney dropped by during his lunch hour with snow shovel in hand.

“I run this all year-round, every other day, so when the snow hits I bring a shovel and do this on my lunch break,” Maloney said. “There’s lots of people who use this. It’s an awesome free exercise.”

After a short break to enjoy the view with Maloney, and sit for a minute to give the sciatica a rest, Shadell is back at it, chipping away patiently one step at a time.

“It keeps me out of trouble,” he said. “Keeps me in shape and helps out. There’s just all kinds of good things about it.”


Reader Comments