Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When we walk on ice we should take small steps. Small steps ensure:

a.)larger friction.

b.)small friction.

c.)larger normal force.

d.)smaller normal force.

The correct answer is smaller friction.

But I think that small steps give larger normal force and more the normal, more the friction.

When we take small steps while walking on ice, do we ensure smaller or larger friction and how?

share|improve this question
I think the answer might be wrong - when we walk on ice, we want MORE friction. Less friction leads to more sliding, more friction leads to less sliding. –  MattS Jul 1 '13 at 11:05
I think the maximum amount of friction the ice can deliver (due to the normal force) will stay the same, however with small steps you will push yourself forward with a smaller force and therefore there will be a smaller change that you would exceed the maximum static friction (and slip). –  fibonatic Jul 1 '13 at 11:19
I've added the homework tag. Please use the homework tag in the future on questions that are assigned schoolwork. –  Ben Crowell Jul 1 '13 at 22:17

4 Answers 4

The reason for small steps is that the lateral forces are decreased. Imagine taking a large step on concrete. When you first put your foot down well in front of you, it will be pushing forwards on the concrete. At the end of that step when that foot is well behind you, it will be pushing backward on the concrete. The larger the step, the larger these forward and backward forces.

Your ordinary shoes on ice can only sustain small forwards and backwards forces before they slip. To avoid slipping, we take smaller steps.

share|improve this answer

The problem is that the question is ambiguous.

In controlled, skating rink conditions (with no skates on), what you are concerned about is slipping and balance. Thus, friction is king.

In real life outside the skating rink, on a river or a pond, you are afraid of breaking ice and drowning. Real ice is inhomogeneous in quality and thickness, and there is always deadly water underneath. Small steps ensure that you don't create large normal force against a piece of thinner ice (like a beam with one end supported) and if you do, the sound of creaking will promptly alert you to move back.

share|improve this answer

The art of walking on ice is to plant your whole shoe sole on the ice and just add so much horisontal force to each step that you don't lose your grip. Small steps make this easier and if you lose your grip you have room for a large corrective step to get back in balance. It’s like balancing a pencil on your finger - the further it gets out of balance the bigger correcting motion you need. If a corrective step doesn’t work, sliding is an option. It helps to bend the knees slightly and keep your feet a bit wide.

The secret is that you don’t need friction to run on ice, only perfect balance. Friction is only needed for acceleration and deceleration. Because when the normal force is parallel to the impact force there is no need for friction, and you can balance the direction of the impact force so the average direction is parallel to the normal force.

share|improve this answer

There is critical angle $\mu = \tan( \theta_c) $ for the leg where if exceeded the foot would slip. The less the available friction $\mu$ the smaller the critical angle.

Even without ice, try to walk on a dirt path using a really long stride and when your foot pressed down when the leg is at a high enough angle away from vertical it will slide. It is the same reason it is not recommended placing ladders on high angles or they will slip.

To the answer is really that small steps equals gating with angles which minimize lateral loading. The question is worded horribly, as answer b) should say minimize lateral forces.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.