Heading north for the snow? Good times can go bad without planning

By David Woodfill / ADOT Communications

Winter traffic near Flagstaff.

It's a winter tradition: When Arizona's high country gets a fresh blanket of snow, many folks head up to throw snowballs, ski and more.

An associated tradition is heavy traffic around areas popular for snow play, especially US 180 northwest of Flagstaff. At day's end, that highway can see big delays as people head back toward Flagstaff. The photo above shows the backup near the Arizona Snowbowl turnoff a few years back.

If you're heading to play in the snow, have a great time. But please keep safety in mind, starting with being prepared for extended time in winter weather. Pack an emergency kit that includes blankets, warm clothing, food, water, cat litter or sand for traction, a first-aid kit, a fully charged cellphone and a flashlight with extra batteries. ADOT's Know Snow page has more tips for you and your vehicle, including keeping your gas tank full or close to it.

Also, keep in mind that parking on highway shoulders to play in the snow not only can slow traffic but is dangerous for you, your passengers and other drivers. Highway shoulders are for emergencies only. First responders may need to use that shoulder, and ADOT's snowplows can hurl show and ice far off a highway. So please use designated parking areas.

Finally, check the weather forecast, research road conditions by visiting az511.gov or calling 511, and consider delaying travel if snow is falling. If you decide to go anyway while it's snowing, be prepared for the possibility of delays and closures caused by poor conditions and slide-offs. And give ADOT's snowplows plenty of room to work, staying at least four vehicle lengths behind and never passing a plow.

We don't want to spoil the fun that is building a snowperson; we just want you to plan ahead and use common sense on your trip.