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Skiing is one of the most exhilarating forms of sport and enjoyment, often being 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, a versatile strategy that optimizes the space available both inside and out.
In this article, we will be looking at the best snowboarding and ski racks available for your vehicle, as well as a useful guide how to attach your skis to the roof rack, a comparison between the value of cargo boxes and ski racks, and a general FAQ section regarding ski and snowboard rack transportation.
The Rhino Rack Ski Carrier is an exception when balancing the decision between a big-budget brand name and a rack that features everything you need and will treat your wallet with more generosity. If you’re looking for the perfect middle of the road variant with all the features you’d want, this could be the rack for you.
The TMS J-Style Rack is an exception when it comes to versatility. Not only does it function as a great ski rack, but it also is able to carry a wide variety of other gear when skiing season is out. Its strong frame and ease of use make it a great contender for the perfect ski rack.
Considerations Before Purchasing a Ski Rack
Let’s discuss a few things that are important to consider before purchasing a roof-mounted snowboard or ski rack.
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’s going to depend on whether your vehicle has roof rails or not. From there we have to 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, there are a few that are specific to a particular type of crossbar. 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 have the tendency to make the most noise. Aero bars are oval-shaped and are the quietest and most aerodynamic, but can also be the most expensive.
Amount of Gear
The second, and usually the most important thing to consider, is how many skis or snowboards you’re looking 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.
It goes without saying, but your budget is really determined by the frequency with which you expect to use the rack as well as the amount of gear you’re needing to carry. The main difference between the more expensive ski racks and their budget-friendly counterparts is the number of extra features and the quality of the materials used. Style also comes into play as a factor 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 having to reach over the top of your vehicle in order to get to the racks and equipment. This is why, when transporting larger objects like kayaks, safety can become an issue. Luckily, the ingenuity of a company called 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 for two feet to stand firm upon it as you gain the extra leverage to securely load your gear to the roof rack of your vehicle.
Not all racks affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle. However, when looking at roof racks it is a factor consider, especially when traveling long distances. Depending on the style of the roof rack and the amount of gear you’re carrying, the effect the rack has on your fuel efficiency will vary. If this is an important factor for you, consider a rack that sports a low, aerodynamic design.
Different Attachment Styles
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 are limited in how many skis they can accommodate. Most of these kinds of racks support four sets of skis or two snowboards.
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 its versatility in being able to transport 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 which reduces drag.
These racks feature as 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 under the roof of the vehicle. These are often some of the cheapest racks available and highly suitable for someone looking to get a rack for journeys that are short and infrequent.
The 10 Best Snowboard and Ski Racks
Thule is a giant in the rack industry and is 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 not in use. Its dimensions are 34.5 x 2.5 x 3.9 (L x H x W) with a loading width of 29.5 inches. The Snowpack ski rack also comes with 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 that include T-tracks and Speedlink systems. This means it could be worth doing your research to make sure this rack will fit your vehicle, but if you’d like the simpler option, you could always use the Thule Roof Kit and Wingbars.
An interesting point about this rack is that it locks the skis to the carrier, as well as 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. Its made of high-quality material and goes over and above 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 which are rather narrow and of course favor Thule roof rack systems.
All in all, if money is no option and you wanted the absolute best with the quality to last, you’d want the Thule Snowpack Ski Rack.
Reasons to buy the Thule Snowpack:
In the rack world, Yakima is always a prime contender for number one. Their racks are known for their premium quality, exceptional design, and a price tag that delights. The FatCat EVO is a great example of the qualities exemplified by the company’s reputation.
This rack carries six pairs of skis or four snowboards and its mounting options are compatible with round, square, and most aero crossbars with added compatibility for T-slot bars. The FatCat comes with an integrated ‘SkiLift’ mechanism to lift the rack to accommodate taller bindings. It also comes with an SKS (Same Key System) mechanism, as well as the classic oversized button for gloved fingers.
The FatCat measures in at 29 x 8.4 x 4 inches (L x W x H) and weighs 11.6 lbs. It also features a double hinge mechanism to allow for wider skis and snowboards. Many people have found this rack to be completely devoid of fault, and while we tried our best to disprove this being a perfect ski rack, we struggled.
The only point of contention we could think of is the price, but considering you’re getting the best for your money, it’s really no surprise the FatCat costs more than other ski racks.
This is a rack that, like Thule racks, is difficult to find criticism of, and that’s really saying something. If you’re looking for a premier rack that is on a par with the biggest brands but at a more affordable price, the FatCat Evo is for you.
Reasons to Buy the YAKIMA FatCat
The TMS J-style rack is a strong challenger for the most versatile ski rack on this list. This TMS rack is popular because, besides it’s strength and ease of use, it’s versatility is matched in value only by its lifetime warranty. This is a rack that can do almost anything (and do it well!) while keeping within your budget.
It’s designed to fit almost any style and size of 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 themselves 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 will need to be put together but comes with all the necessary tools and hardware required. People have noted that the setup of the rack is quite tricky with the stamped wrench included. We find using your own adjustable wrench makes the process much smoother.
In conclusion, this TMS rack is an exception when it comes to versatility. Not only does it function as a great ski rack, but it also is able to carry a wide variety of other gear when skiing season is out. It’s strong frame and ease of use make it a great contender for the perfect ski rack, and with additional straps, can bring excellent peace of mind when transporting your gear.
Reasons to Buy the TMS J-Style Rack
The next rack we have 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 a variety of 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 as well as four keys for the locks with MasterKey compatibility.
The Rhino Ski Carrier supports an assortment of components to keep your skiing gear extra safe, it’s rustproof, water-proof, mold-resistant, and comes with 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 as an ultimate safety element.
Another point that has been noted by consumers 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 balancing the decision between a big-budget brand name and a rack that features everything you need and will treat your wallet with more generosity. If you’re looking for the perfect middle-of-the-road variant with all the features you’d want, this could be the rack for you. Just keep in mind some of the tricks and obstacles that affect all roof racks in terms of security and maintenance and you’ll be A-OK.
Reasons to Buy the Rhino Rack Ski Carrier
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 round, square, and the majority of aero style, factory racks.
Featuring rubber padding to grip your skiing gear and a clamp and lock system, as well as the typical oversized unlock button for gloved hands, this rack has everything you’d need in a classic ski rack. 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 in addition to closing 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 that comes with all of the standard features but at a price that beats most others.
Reasons to Buy the SportRack Groomer Deluxe
The IKURAM J-Style Folding Ski Rack is our second entry of J-style snowboard and ski-rack. It is unique in its emphasis on protecting your gear, doing so through its high-density foam-rubber padding and anodized aviation-grade aluminum alloys which are 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 a variety of gear other than skis and snowboards. It weighs 21.7 lbs and measures 20 x 14.5 x 11.5 inches (L x H x W). The rack also has a quick-fold feature for ease of use as well as to fold 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 are quick to 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 of 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 DORSAL Aero Pad is an outlier marked for its near-universal adaptability. They’re a set of pads that fit over aero-shaped crossbars to allow snowboards and skis to be fitted over and strapped up. It’s one of the simplest and easy to use ski rack options on this list.
The first thing to note with this rack is that it isn’t an actual rack, rather padding that fits specifically over aero shaped crossbars. The pads adjust to wider aero bars but we’ve found that they 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 and is made from UV resistant 600D Nylon and measures 28 inches with a maximum diameter of 8 inches, as well as featuring a non-slip material to keep your gear in place. The ease of use with this type of roof rack is significant. Simply lay your gear down and strap it up, no need for fiddling with extras. It should be noted that the purchase of the pads does 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. It’s only drawbacks are the fact that it doesn’t include straps, and may have a hard time securing to non-aero crossbars, otherwise, it’s a great option for the occasional skier.
Reasons to Buy the DORSAL Aero Pad
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. It’s soft rubber grips serve to hold your skis in place while it’s locking mechanism keeps them safe on the trip to 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 and 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, as well as 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 INNO Racks Gravity Snow rack is another in a series of particularly popular ski racks that combine budget-friendliness with many of the features you’d expect in a great ski rack. INNO, named for innovation, are known for their technological superiority in the world of racks and their Gravity Snow Rack is no different.
This rack is unique for its extra-wide jaw cradles that support the thickest of skis and snowboards while still maintaining a slim frame to aid in drag reduction.
This rack comes as a set of two clamps that hold up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards that fit snugly between the pads. Simply clamp the rack down over your gear, lock it, and you’re good to go. The rack measures 35 x 5 x 5 (L x W x H) and weighs 8.58 lbs.
You’ll be pleased to know it also features a protruding unlock button specifically for gloved use, as well as that all hardware needed for setup and installation are included with the purchase.
INNO states that the rack fits all shapes of the crossbar but also mentions that for some types of round bar, an adapter (sold separately) may be necessary. The frame is made from high-grade plastic and rust-resistant aluminum, which sounds great 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 for its price and range of features, it does a great job. This is a rack for those who care for versatility and ease of use on a budget.
Reasons to Buy the INNO Gravity Snow Rack
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 and creates a soft yet sturdy platform for you to strap your gear to.
The Universal Roof Pad is designed for safety. Its padding is designed to dampen vibrations, while it’s strapping features aircraft buckles. It can also fit a great load capacity with a maximum of 165.3 lbs. It comes as a set of two pads with strapping included, the dimensions of which are 33.5 x 3.1 x 4.1 (L x W x H) inches for the pad and 90.6 x 1.5 (L x W) inches for the straps.
We found that constant use of the rack without removal from the vehicle, as well as constant exposure to the elements, could severely limit the life expectancy of the strapping. It goes without saying that 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 who are 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
Accessories Worth Considering
An essential accessory and the perfect complement to a roof rack is a door step. This is a step that fits onto the inside of your vehicle’s door to allow you to step up and over your roof rack to gain better access to it.
Here’s what we recommend
The Moki Door Step is an excellent product for safely gaining access to your vehicle roof. Simply hook it into your door’s latch and step on up, it even has space for two feet.
How to Load Your Skis:
Making sure you’ve got your gear loaded properly 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 if you aren’t tall enough. While it always helps to have a friend to lend a hand, have a look at the Moki Door Step featured above. Its easy application to your door frame gives the extra leverage and reach needed to safely load your ski rack.
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 simply close the rack and engage the lock (if the rack has one).
Cargo Boxes vs Ski Racks
There’s a major argument between whether it’s better to use a cargo box or a ski rack. If you’re unfamiliar with cargo boxes, have a look at our article on the best of them here. Cargo boxes feature a strong advantage in being able to shield your gear from the elements, as well to provide 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’s going to 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.
Ski Rack FAQs:
Do ski racks affect gas mileage?
Definitely. Anything even slightly bulky strapped to the top of your vehicle will increase drag and cause you to have 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 is an issue that bothers you, you can always check out some of the aerodynamically inclined cargo boxes here.
Are ski racks bad for skis?
Unless installed and used incorrectly, a ski rack does not pose a direct threat to the longevity of your skis. However, the exposure to the elements they bring to the skis could certainly do so.
The biggest risk skis on a ski rack face are 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. This is the best solution, besides using a cargo box, which eliminates the risk of exposure 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 several 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 by means of a jaw-like arm that features grips to hold your gear tightly. These mechanisms can differ in size and capacity, an example being the difference between J-racks (that are more versatile and can support kayaks) to clamp-style racks (that are made specifically for skis and snowboards).
However, there are outliers that rely on simpler means. A good example of this 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?
No. It depends on the type of ski rack you want and how that style of rack 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 mounting of the rack 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) then 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 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 that come 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.
Will it be difficult trying to reach my roof rack?
It could be, this depends on the height of your vehicle and of yourself. It’s always helpful having a friend to give a hand, but in the case where that’s not possible, consider the Moki Door Step. It’s an excellent device that assists in granting more access to the roof than before. Simply attach it to the door frame and step up. It even has space for two feet so you’ve got extra purchase when loading your gear.