Best Car Ski Racks: Top Picks for a Seamless Winter Adventure
One of the hassles of the great sport of skiing is deciding how to transport those pesky skis. I have tried everything – inside my car, in a truck box, a rooftop carrier, and ski racks. Given that one of the best ways to save money skiing is to not rent skis, I am determined to get them in the vehicle somehow!
I have explored numerous options for car ski racks over the years. There are several types to choose from – roof-mounted, hitch-mounted, or even magnetic racks. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to identify which one will best suit your needs based on your vehicle size, equipment, and personal preferences.
Your vehicle’s equipment will, in part, dictate what kind of rack you can use, but it is good to be versed on all the options, regardless.
Types of Car Ski Racks
The two main types of ski racks are roof-mounted and hitch-mounted ski racks. Each has some pros and cons.
Roof-Mounted Ski Racks
Roof-mounted ski racks are the most popular option for transporting skis and snowboards. They mount on the roof of your car and hold your equipment securely above the vehicle. There are several advantages to using a roof-mounted ski rack, such as:
- Increased storage space: Roof-mounted racks provide extra space because they don’t take up any room inside your car, allowing more space for passengers or other gear.
- Reduced risk of theft: Skis and snowboards are less accessible and visible when mounted on the roof, making them less tempting for potential thieves.
- Compatibility: Roof-mounted racks are compatible with most vehicles as long as they have an existing roof rack system or the ability to attach one.
However, there are also a few downsides to consider:
- Height clearance: With equipment mounted on the roof, your car may not fit in some parking garages or under low overpasses. And I am here to tell you, it is easy to forget that those skis are up there sometimes!
- Loading and unloading: Putting skis and snowboards on a roof-mounted rack requires lifting them overhead, which can be difficult for some people.
Hitch-Mounted Ski Racks
Hitch-mounted ski racks are another option for transporting your skis and snowboards. They attach to the vehicle’s hitch receiver, which is typically located near the rear bumper. Some benefits of hitch-mounted ski racks include:
- Easier loading and unloading: Since the equipment is closer to the ground, it’s generally easier to load and unload compared to roof-mounted racks.
- Compatibility: Hitch-mounted racks can be used with most vehicles, as long as they have a hitch receiver available.
However, these racks also have some drawbacks:
- Decreased rear visibility: Hitch-mounted ski racks can obstruct your view from the rear window, making it more challenging to see what’s behind you while driving.
- Potential parking and maneuverability issues: With a hitch-mounted rack, parking in tight spaces or maneuvering through narrow streets might be more difficult due to the added length of the rack.
- You are more likely to get road salt and grime on the skis, given how close to the road the skis will be.
When choosing between roof-mounted and hitch-mounted ski racks, it is important to consider your vehicle, your physical abilities, and how often you plan to transport your equipment. Both options can securely carry your skis and snowboards, so my recommendation is to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each type before deciding.
Top Car Ski Rack Brands and Models
I’ve used lots of ski racks, but have also seen many more. Having spent LOTS of time hanging around ski resort parking lots and talking with fellow skiers, here are the models I recommend.
In my experience with ski racks, the Thule SnowPack stands out as a versatile and reliable option. It is compatible with various roof rack systems and has adjustable arms that can accommodate different ski and snowboard sizes. The rubber arms provide a secure grip, and the locking system ensures safety during transportation. The Thule SnowPack is available in different sizes, catering to individual needs.
You are going to have two different options of the SnowPack, the regular 4-ski rack, and the “large” size which fits up to 6 pairs. My experience is that 90% of the people looking for a rack need capacity for 4 or fewer boards, making the less-expensive base version a good option for them.
- Pros: Excellent quality and ease of use
- Cons: 4 skis might be pushing it (on the 4-ski version)
- Find it here
I’ve found that the Yakima FatCat ski racks are an excellent choice if you’re looking for a sleek and aerodynamic design. These racks can hold up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards, depending on the model. The FatCat’s DoubleJoint™ hinge system allows for easy loading and unloading and effortlessly accommodates thick skis and boards. The integrated SKS (Same Key System) locks add an extra layer of security.
The Fatcat 6 will hold up to 6 skis, as the name suggests. If you are looking to save about $75, the FatCat 4 will get you the capacity for 4 skis.
Yakima’s pricing is generally competitive with the Thule options of comparable size.
- Pros: Great quality and solid build
- Cons: Complicated to initially install
- Find it here
Rhino Rack Ski Carrier
One brand that caught my eye back when I driving a smaller vehicle is Rhino Rack, particularly their Ski Carrier series. These carriers allow for easy side loading, making it convenient to stow your gear on the roof. They are universally compatible with most crossbars and are made from corrosion-resistant materials for durability. Rhino Rack Ski Carriers feature a soft rubber molding, which not only protects your equipment but also ensures a secure fit.
For people who are not exactly sure which car they might be driving, and just need a good universal ski carrier, the Rhino Rack brand is a good option because of its adjustability.
- Pros: Great price, versatile
- Cons: Some durability concerns
- Find it here (on Amazon)
For those who prefer a hitch-mounted system, Yakima HitchSki is an excellent choice. I like that it doesn’t require a roof rack, and it can quickly convert your bike carrier into a ski or snowboard carrier. It’s compatible with any Yakima hitch-mounted bike rack and can hold up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards. The adjustable arms accommodate various ski and snowboard sizes, making it versatile for different trips and equipment.
The question of a hitch-based rack vs. a roof-based system is really one of personal preference. I like roof-based systems, but totally get the view of folks who would rather have their skis mounted securely to the strong hitch receiver than bouncing around on top of your car (actually, that should not be happening!)
- Pros: Excellent capacity
- Cons: Requires some elbow grease to close and latch. Need a compatible bike rack also if you don’t already have one.
- Find it here (on Amazon)
I highly recommend considering the Yakima SkyBox if you need additional storage space for your winter gear. This rooftop cargo box provides weather-protected storage, allowing you to transport skis, snowboards, and other items securely. It features tool-free installation, a dual-sided opening for easy access, and an SKS lock system for added security.
SkyBoxes work great for carrying skis, as long as the box is long enough. If someone in your party skis on super long skis, like 190 or longer, you will want to do some measuring to be sure they will fit in the box. Otherwise, I like how a SkyBox keeps road salt and rocks from hitting the skis. They don’t really mount (unless you get the ski-specific box) so I like to wrap them in an old blanket so the skis don’t try to damage each other.
- Pros: Excellent protection from road debris and grime
- Cons: Longer skis can be difficult to fit
- Find it here
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Car Ski Rack
Quality and Durability
When looking for a car ski rack, I believe it’s essential to prioritize quality and durability. High-quality materials like aluminum and steel provide long-lasting performance and can withstand harsh weather conditions. I recommend ensuring that the ski rack is rust and corrosion-resistant, as it adds to the durability factor.
Size and Compatibility
The size and compatibility of the car ski rack are also crucial factors to consider. I find it important to measure my vehicle’s roof size and crossbars accurately to ensure the rack fits securely. Additionally, I check for compatibility with my car make and model before purchasing, as this will save me time and avoid issues down the line. Remember that if you are carrying longer skis like Nordic style skis, that could affect your ability to use a rooftop carrier vs. a rack.
Ease of Use and Installation
If you are like me, having something that is hard to use means it will get used less. For me, ease of use and installation are essential in making my skiing trips enjoyable and hassle-free. I look for car ski racks that come with clear instructions, fewer parts, and preferably require no tools for installation. Versatility is also a significant factor, as it allows me to use the ski rack for various types of equipment like snowboards and even bicycles.
Price and Affordability
While it might be tempting to go for the cheapest option, I understand that investing in a quality car ski rack can save me money in the long run by providing better protection for my gear, and a rack that I don’t have to replace anytime soon. It is always important to find an affordable but reliable option that doesn’t compromise on quality.
Using a Rooftop Cargo Carrier Instead
One popular alternative to using a car ski rack is a rooftop cargo carrier, like the SkyBox I profiled above. These containers are versatile and are perfect for securely holding multiple sets of skis, poles, and other belongings.
Ease of use: A rooftop cargo box can be more user-friendly than a ski rack. I simply attach it to the crossbars on my car’s roof, open the lid, and load my gear. There’s no need to worry about adjusting clamps or dealing with mounting hardware specially designed for skis. Additionally, I don’t have to worry about snow accumulating on my gear as the cargo box is fully enclosed, protecting it from the elements.
Space and versatility: Compared to ski racks, rooftop cargo boxes offer significantly more space. I can easily fit several sets of skis, snowboards, and poles, as well as my ski boots, gloves, and other essentials. This extra space allows me to carry luggage or other equipment on trips when multiple passengers are involved, making it a more versatile option overall.
Security: I value the feeling of security that comes with using a rooftop cargo box. Many models come with built-in locks to ensure that my gear remains safe during transit. This added measure helps deter theft and provides peace of mind knowing that my skis and other belongings are secure.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to using a rooftop cargo box as well. One notable disadvantage is the additional height it adds to my vehicle, making it difficult to access parking garages and other low-clearance areas. Additionally, installing it is often a 2-person job, as it can be pretty heavy.
Additional Tips for Transporting Skis and Snowboards
Properly Securing Your Equipment
When transporting my skis and snowboards, I always make sure to properly secure the equipment to avoid any damage or accidents. It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installation and to regularly check the attachments for tightness. I try to evenly distribute the weight of my gear and use padding if necessary to prevent any scratches or dents.
Aerodynamics and Fuel Efficiency
I’ve learned that an aerodynamic design not only helps with fuel efficiency but also keeps my gear stable during transportation. By choosing a sleek car ski rack, I can reduce wind resistance and save on gas consumption. To further improve aerodynamics, I store my heavier winter sports gear, such as boots and helmets, inside the vehicle.
Protecting Your Gear from the Elements
To safeguard my skiing and snowboarding equipment from harsh weather conditions, I invest in rustproof and mold-resistant car ski racks. Additionally, enclosed or semi-enclosed designs offer further protection from the elements, reducing the likelihood of rust, corrosion, or freezing. It’s crucial to clean and dry the gear before and after each trip to the slopes to ensure the longevity of both the equipment and the rack.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I install a ski rack?
The easy answer is to follow the manual in your ski rack’s packaging. However, I want to give you a bit more to go on, so follow these general steps:
- Assemble the ski rack as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Ensure your car’s roof bars are properly installed and secure.
- Place the ski rack onto the roof bars, adjusting it to fit the width of your bars.
- Attach the ski rack to the roof bars using the provided clamps or straps.
- Tighten the clamps or straps until the ski rack is firmly secured.
- Double-check all connections to make sure everything is in place and secure.
Always consult your specific ski rack’s user manual for detailed instructions, as installation can vary between different models.
Can I use a ski rack for snowboards?
Yes, most ski racks can also accommodate snowboards. Some ski racks are designed explicitly for both skis and snowboards, while others may require an additional accessory to hold snowboards securely. When shopping for a ski rack, check the product specifications to ensure it can support the type and quantity of snowboards you plan to transport.
How about for ski blades?
If you are someone who skis on those short mini-skis called ski blades (aka snow blades), be sure to measure the distance between the two contact points on your car’s roof rack. For some of the shorter ski blade models, they may not fit…. but they probably are small enough to just be tossed in your trunk.
Do all ski racks fit any type of roof bars?
While most ski racks are designed to fit a wide range of roof bars, not all ski racks are compatible with every type of roof bar. Common types of roof bars include square, round, and aerodynamic profiles, and many ski racks are adjustable to accommodate these variations. However, always check the ski rack’s compatibility with your specific roof bars to ensure a proper fit. Additionally, some vehicles may require an adapter or specific mounting hardware for certain ski rack models.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.