Skiing is one of the most exhilarating forms of sport and enjoyment, often the premise for many exciting vacations. Unfortunately, not everyone owns property on the slopes or lives close by, and few know how to efficiently transport these awkward pieces of gear for the journey.
While you may manage to fit all the necessary utilities within the vehicle, most opt to make use of their roof racks. This versatile strategy optimizes the space available both inside and out.
Thule SnowPack Ski Rack
The Snowpack by Thule is a sterling example of what makes the brand great. It’s made of high-quality material and exceeds what you’d expect from a premium ski rack.
In this article, we have divided the ten best snowboards and ski racks into three categories related to the different styles of snowboard and ski racks available. These categories include a clamp-style rack, a j-style rack, and the universal style rack.
Before jumping into the list, read our buyer’s guide, which lists everything you might need to consider before purchasing. We have also included a detailed comparison between cargo boxes and ski racks, a guide on loading your skis, recommended accessories, and even a general FAQ section to help you make the best decision for your needs and car.
The Best Clamp Style Snowboard and Ski Racks
Clamp-style roof racks open with a hinge on one end to allow you to place your skis or boards onto the pads to secure them. These are easy to use and are generally very secure when holding your gear, but they are limited in how many skis they can accommodate. Most of these racks support four sets of skis or two snowboards.
1. Thule SnowPack Ski Rack
Thule is a rack industry giant known for its sleek, aerodynamic racks and high-quality materials. The Snowpack is a fine example of this and comes in a few varieties, supporting between four pairs of skis and two boards to six pairs of skis and four boards, with the option of the extender rack to accommodate even more. It also has the option of black or silver.
This rack accommodates thicker skis and snowboards and features a vertical spring that reduces the rack’s height when unused. Its dimensions are 34.5 x 2.5 x 3.9, with a loading width of 29.5 inches. The Snowpack ski rack also has the common oversized button for gloved hands and a lock to keep it all secure.
The rack mounting is compatible with Thule rack systems, round crossbars, and most factory racks, including T-tracks and Speedlink systems. This means it could be worth researching to ensure this rack will fit your vehicle, but if you’d like the simpler option, you could always use the Thule Roof Kit and wing bars.
An interesting point about this rack is that it locks the skis to the carrier and the carrier to the vehicle, adding extra peace of mind when transporting your gear. It also comes with extender blocks to increase the height of the rack to accommodate taller bindings on your skis.
In conclusion, the Snowpack by Thule is a sterling example of what makes the brand great. It’s made of high-quality material and exceeds the expectations of the features you’d expect to be included in a ski rack. However, it does lend itself to being one of the priciest racks on the market, with mounting specifications that are rather narrow and favor Thule roof rack systems.
If money is no option and you want the absolute best with the quality to last, you’d want the Thule Snowpack Ski Rack.
Reasons to Buy Thule Snowpack Ski Rack
2. Rhino Rack Ski Carrier
The next rack on this list is the Ski Carrier by Rhino Rack. This clamp-style rack is one of the most prominent in the industry for its snap-shut and lock features that allow for quiet and safe transportation of your skiing and snowboarding gear.
This rack supports a release mechanism designed to be used by gloved fingers, a clear example of great design. It carries six ski pairs or four snowboards but comes with various options determined by the different sizes of the rack available, the smallest being 10 inches in length and the largest being 27 inches. The product comes with a set of two ski arms and four keys for the locks with MasterKey compatibility.
The Rhino Ski Carrier supports various components to keep your skiing gear extra safe; it’s rustproof, water-proof, mold-resistant, and UV protection to keep it looking sleek and sharp for years to come. Being more budget-friendly than some of the bigger brands, we’ve found that the locks, while functional, act as more of a deterrent than an ultimate safety element.
Another point that consumers have noted is not to over-tighten the plastic mounting tabs as it may cause them to warp or even break.
In conclusion, the Rhino Rack is an exception when deciding between a big-budget brand name and a rack that features everything you need and will treat your wallet with more generosity. This could be your rack if you want the perfect middle-of-the-road variant with all the desired features. Just remember some of the tricks and obstacles that affect all roof racks regarding security and maintenance, and you’ll be A-OK.
Reasons to Buy the SportRack Groomer Deluxe
3. SportRack Groomer Deluxe Ski Rack
The Groomer Deluxe by SportRack is a straightforward, no-nonsense rack that provides all the amenities you’d expect from a ski rack in a package that is both budget-friendly and easy to use. This rack mounts easily on the round, square, and most aero-style factory racks.
This rack has everything you’d need in a classic ski rack, featuring rubber padding to grip your skiing gear, a clamp and lock system, and the typical oversized unlock button for gloved hands. The Groomer Deluxe holds six pairs of skis or four snowboards. When closing the rack onto your gear, the latch is adjustable to fit thicker sizes of ski and snowboard. The rack also has a maximum load weight of 130 lbs.
It should be noted that with all ski racks that feature a lock, this one included, it is imperative to lock the rack and close the clamp, as we’ve noticed that failure to lock the rack may result in the rack opening during travel. The tools required to install the rack are included. However, we’ve found that using your own may be easier.
The Groomer Deluxe Ski Rack by SportRack is a fantastic choice for those who want a classic ski rack with all the standard features but at a price that beats most others.
Reasons to Buy the SportRack Groomer Deluxe
4. INNO Gravity Snow Rack
The INNO Racks Gravity Snow rack is another in a series of trendy ski racks that combine budget-friendliness with many of the features you’d expect in a terrific ski rack. INNO, named for innovation, is known for its technological superiority in the racks world, and its Gravity Snow Rack is no different.
This rack is unique for its extra-wide jaw cradles that support the thickest skis and snowboards while maintaining a slim frame to reduce drag.
This rack is a set of two clamps that hold up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards that fit snugly between the pads. Clamp the rack down over your gear, lock it, and you’re ready. The rack measures 35 x 5 x 5 and weighs 8.58 lbs.
You’ll be pleased to know it also features a protruding unlock button specifically for gloved use and that all hardware needed for setup and installation is included with the purchase.
INNO states that the rack fits all crossbar shapes but also mentions that an adapter (sold separately) may be necessary for some round bars. The frame is made from high-grade plastic and rust-resistant aluminum, which sounds excellent for weighing the vehicle down less but may not last as long as other ski racks in the long run.
In essence, the INNO Gravity Snow Rack may not have the quality of brands like Thule, but it does a great job for its price and range of features. This rack is for those who care for versatility and ease of use on a budget.
Reasons to Buy the INNO Gravity Snow Rack
5. Apex Ski Rack
The Apex SKI-4 Ski Rack is one of the stalwarts of ski rack design, highlighting all the features you need in a classic ski rack while providing exclusive affordability. Its soft rubber grips keep your skis in place, while its locking mechanism keeps them safe on the slopes. This rack is quintessentially simple yet effective.
Made from heavy-duty plastic and aluminum, the Apex is designed in style and weight to reduce drag. It features the standard oversized unlock button for use with gloved fingers. This rack mounts to square bars 5.5 x 1 inch (W x H) or round crossbars 1.5 inches in diameter. It fits four pairs of skis, two snowboards, or a mix of both.
We’ve found that the plastic body of this rack may be damaged if screws are over-tightened and that it may open during transport if clamped down but not locked. However, it is expressly indicated that it should be locked during use.
The Apex SKI-4 is a great choice for those looking for a good value-for-money rack that does everything you need while keeping your gear safe on the trip to the slopes. Its body may not last as long as other racks, but with conscientious maintenance and storage of the rack when not in use, it can easily provide as much bang for your buck as any other.
Reasons to Buy the Apex SKI-4
The Best J-Style Snowboard and Ski Racks
These clever devices are shaped like the letter J and feature a hinge at the bottom of the curve that adjusts to hold onto whatever type of gear you’re hauling. These are useful for their versatility in transporting skis, snowboards, and even kayaks and, as a result, are heavily popular. They also commonly fold flush with the roof rack when not in use, reducing drag.
6. TMS J-Style Rack
The TMS J-style rack is a strong challenger for this list’s most versatile ski rack. This TMS rack is popular because, besides its strength and ease of use, its versatility is matched in value only by its lifetime warranty. This rack can do almost anything (and do it well!) while keeping within your budget.
It’s designed to fit almost any style and size of the roof bar. It’s made from steel with a rust-resistant coating and features adjustable pads to ensure the safety of your gear. TMS has nearly outdone itself with this rack because, besides the strength of the construction, it also enjoys a quick on/off system to make installing the rack and removing it a breeze.
The rack must be assembled, but it has all the necessary tools and hardware. People have noted that the rack setup with the stamped wrench included is quite tricky. We find using your adjustable wrench makes the process much smoother.
In conclusion, this TMS rack is an exception regarding versatility. Not only does it function as a great ski rack, but it also can carry a wide variety of other gear when the skiing season is out. Its strong frame and ease of use make it a great contender for the perfect ski rack, and with additional straps, it can bring perfect peace of mind when transporting your gear.
Reasons to Buy the TMS J-Style Rack
7. IKURAM J-Style Ski Rack
The IKURAM J-Style Folding Ski Rack is our second entry at J-style snowboard and ski rack. It is unique in its emphasis on protecting your gear through its high-density foam-rubber padding and anodized aviation-grade aluminum alloys, both lightweight and rust-resistant. It also mounts to round, square, and most aero, crossbar variants.
This J-style rack comes as a pair and includes two heavy-duty straps with a break strength of 750 lbs. As with J-racks, it’s incredibly versatile, fitting various gear besides skis and snowboards. It weighs 21.7 lbs and measures 20 x 14.5 x 11.5 inches. The rack also has a quick-fold feature for ease of use and folds downwards to reduce drag when not in use.
We’ve noticed that this rack suffers from a nearly illegible instruction manual. However, IKURAM’s customer support teams quickly assist in the matter. It should also be noted that the same support information is easily found online.
The IKURAM J-style Folding Ski Rack is a premium J-style rack with all the frills and amenities that a rack with its sort price tag affords. This is perfect for getting your skiing gear to the slopes in the winter and your kayaks to the lake in the summer. It’s a genuinely high-quality product that only suffers from a poorly made manual but makes up for it with an attentive customer service team.
Reasons to Buy the IKURAM J-Style Ski Rack
The Best Universal Style Snowboard and Ski Racks
These racks feature some of the most multi-functional on this list. They’re soft pads that either fit over your roof bars or do away with the need for bars by strapping them under the vehicle’s roof. These are often some of the cheapest racks available and are highly suitable for someone looking to get a rack for short and infrequent journeys.
8. DORSAL Aero Pad
The DORSAL Aero Pad is an outlier marked for its near-universal adaptability. They’re a set of pads that fit over aero-shaped crossbars, allowing snowboards and skis to be fitted over and strapped up. It’s one of this list’s simplest and easy-to-use ski rack options.
The first thing to note with this rack is that it isn’t an actual rack but rather padding that fits precisely over aero-shaped crossbars. The pads adjust to wider aero bars but will slip around if fitted to round or square bars. The beauty of this rack is its simplicity. It can support as many skis and snowboards as you can fit onto it, provided you’ve strapped them up nice and tightly.
The rack comes as a set of two pads, is made from UV-resistant 600D Nylon, measures 28 inches with a maximum diameter of 8 inches, and features a non-slip material to keep your gear in place. The ease of use with this type of roof rack is significant. Lay your gear down and strap it up; no need for fiddling with extras. It should be noted that the pads purchased do not include straps.
For the casual snowboarder, the DORSAL Aero Pad could be brilliant for you. It’s exceptionally budget-friendly, easy to use, and delivers great versatility. Its only drawbacks are that it doesn’t include straps and may have difficulty securing non-aero crossbars. Otherwise, it’s a great option for the occasional skier.
Reasons to Buy the DORSAL Aero Pad
9. Orion Universal Roof Pad
The Universal Roof Pad by Orion Motor Tech is the second entry of soft crossbar pads on this list. This popular pad is incredibly versatile, creating a soft yet sturdy platform to strap your gear.
The Universal Roof Pad is designed for safety. Its padding dampens vibrations, while its strapping features aircraft buckles. It can also fit a great load capacity of 165.3 lbs. It has two pads with strapping included, which are 33.5 x 3.1 x 4.1 inches for the pad and 90.6 x 1.5 inches for the straps.
We found that constant use of the rack without removal from the vehicle and constant exposure to the elements could severely limit the life expectancy of the strapping. One should stow their racks when not in use. However, it is useful to note the effect of consistent outdoor exposure.
The Orion Universal Roof Pad is a great option for those casual skiers looking for something affordable and versatile enough to use during other seasons. This rack stands out for its exceptional ease of use and adaptability to various crossbars.
Reasons to Buy the Orion Universal Roof Pad
Considerations Before Purchasing a Ski Rack
Before purchasing a roof-mounted snowboard or ski rack, let’s discuss a few important things to consider.
The first thing to consider is whether your vehicle is compatible with the ski rack you’re looking at. Since this article is entirely roof rack-related, it will depend on whether your vehicle has roof rails. From there, we must consider whether the rack will fit your style of crossbars.
Check whether the mounting system on the ski rack you’re interested in is compatible with your crossbars. While many popular ski racks feature versatile mounting systems, a few are specific to a particular crossbar type. There are three kinds of crossbars; round, square, and aero. Round bars are mid-tier in terms of price and usually have minimal noise issues. Square bars are generally cheaper and tend to make the most noise. Aero bars are oval-shaped, quiet, and most aerodynamic, but they can also be expensive.
Amount of Gear
The second and most important thing to consider is how many skis or snowboards you want to transport. This will determine the size of the rack you have. While many of the racks we feature here have space for between 2-6 sets of skis or snowboards, you should keep an eye on the carrying capacity of each rack to ensure you can transport your gear safely and effectively.
The frequency determines the budget you expect to use the rack and the amount of gear you need to carry. The main difference between the more expensive ski racks and their budget-friendly counterparts is the number of extra features and the materials’ quality. The style also comes into play when looking at the more upscale racks, something that brands like Thule are often immediately recognized for.
Ease of Use
Safety when loading and unloading a rack is always a concern, and the roof rack is no different. A roof rack brings the unique problem of reaching over the top of your vehicle to get to the racks and equipment. This is why safety can become an issue when transporting larger objects like kayaks. Luckily, the ingenuity of Rightline Gear has stepped up (excuse the pun!) to provide us with a convenient fix to this issue: the Moki Door Step.
This handy device attaches to the side of your door and allows two feet to stand firm upon it as you gain the extra leverage to load your gear to your vehicle’s roof rack securely.
Not all racks affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle. However, when looking at roof racks, it is a factor considered, especially when traveling long distances. Depending on the style of the roof rack and the amount of gear you’re carrying, the rack’s effect on your fuel efficiency will vary. Consider a rack that sports a low, aerodynamic design if this is an important factor.
How to Load Your Skis
Ensuring you’ve loaded your gear correctly is imperative to a safe journey and a great skiing experience. Loading roof racks can be tricky if you struggle to reach the top of your vehicle or aren’t tall enough. While it always helps to have a friend to lend a hand, look at the Moki Door Step featured above. Its easy application to your door frame gives the extra leverage and reach needed to load your ski rack safely.
Once you have a comfortable position and are in full reach of your ski racks, slide or place your skis into the rack with the flat end facing towards the front of your vehicle (this will not apply to snowboards as both ends are turned up). Now close the rack and engage the lock (if the rack has one).
Accessories Worth Considering
The doorstep is an essential accessory and the perfect complement to a roof rack. This step fits onto the inside of your vehicle’s door, allowing you to move up and over your roof rack to gain better access.
Cargo Boxes vs. Ski Racks
A major argument is whether using a cargo box or a ski rack is better. If you’re unfamiliar with cargo boxes, look at our article on the best of them here. Cargo boxes feature a strong advantage in shielding your gear from the elements and providing space for wet equipment you’d prefer to keep out of your vehicle.
The defining factor here is the length of the journey. If it will take a few days and you have the extra cash, get the cargo box. But if you’re doing a day trip and you’re confident of the safety of your vehicle and gear, get the ski rack. The ski rack’s convenience shines in its ease of use and budget-friendly nature, and it doesn’t hurt that most varieties feature locks, too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Ski Racks Affect Gas Mileage?
Anything slightly bulky strapped to the top of your vehicle will increase drag and cause you to spend more on gas. How much this will affect you would be determined by the shape and aerodynamics of your rack, but as far as roof racks go, ski racks are among the smallest, and it helps that you’re transporting slim skis or snowboards instead of large kayaks. If this issue bothers you, you can check out some aerodynamically inclined cargo boxes here.
Are Ski Racks Bad for Skis?
A ski rack does not directly threaten your skis’ longevity unless installed and used incorrectly. However, the exposure to the elements they bring to the skis could certainly do so. The biggest risk skis on a ski rack face is corrosion damage from salt and humidity. A solution to this is to wrap the skis and their bindings in plastic film, sealing the edges to make it airtight. Besides using a cargo box, this is the best solution, eliminating the exposure risk altogether.
What is the Best Ski Rack?
The best ski rack we could find on the market is the Thule SnowPack. It’s a top-of-the-line ski rack with the highest quality materials you’d expect from a brand like Thule. It contains features that most ski racks don’t have, such as a height adjuster for taller bindings and an aerodynamic design for a lessened impact on gas mileage.
How Do Ski Racks Work?
Ski racks work by a single near-universal principle. They clamp your skis or snowboards to the rack using a jaw-like arm with grips to hold your gear tightly. These mechanisms can differ in size and capacity, an example being the difference between J-racks (more versatile and can support kayaks) to clamp-style racks (made specifically for skis and snowboards). However, some outliers rely on simpler means. A good example is the Universal Rack Pads featured on this list, which require the gear to be strapped to them, focusing on the strapping to secure the gear rather than an arm of the rack itself.
Can You Put a Ski Rack on Any Car?Is it Easy for My Gear to Fall Out of the Rack?Can You Put a Ski Rack on Any Car?
No. It depends on the ski rack you want and how that rack style applies to your vehicle. The first point to consider is the type of rack you’d like. All the racks on the list above are roof racks and require roof rails and bars. The second point in considering a roof rack is whether the rack mounting fits the type of crossbars you have. For a look at crossbar differences, click here. Once you’ve confirmed that your vehicle has the features to fit the rack you want and that your crossbars are suitable (if choosing a roof rack), you should be able to fit the rack with no trouble.
Do I Also Have to Secure the Special Screws on the Rack?
Yes. Those are tamper-proof screws and will need to be attached/detached with the special screwdriver that comes with the rack. They’re there as a last resort to prevent theft and tampering. Be sure not to lose that screwdriver that comes with the rack, it’s not impossible to find a replacement, but it is a massive hassle.
Is it Easy for My Gear to Fall Out of the Rack?
No, unless you’ve secured them incorrectly. Ski racks (and clamp-style ski racks, in particular) hold a firm grip on your skis and snowboards in a way that it is highly unlikely that your gear will fall out of them unless the rack is damaged or has been installed incorrectly. Generally, this isn’t a concern if you follow the instructions with the rack. For added peace of mind, there’s no harm in tying your gear up with an extra strap just so that if the worst does happen, your gear will still be attached to the rack.
Timo is an outdoor enthusiast and gear specialist who is constantly exploring. As an avid hiker, he has completed the ADK 46ers, South Beyond 6000, GA4000, and the Colorado 14ers. He's ice climbed Mt. Hood, hiked up half a dozen mountains in the Alps, and spent three consecutive summers constructing a sustainable trail through the Colorado high country.