Whether you’re road tripping for a ski vacation or simply heading to your local hill, you need a way properly transport your skis and snowboards. Throwing them in the backseat is rarely the best option — they take up space, melt snow on the seats, and force the person sitting in the back to contort their body into yoga-like poses to accommodate the pile of gear.
Instead, opting for a reliable set of ski racks is the best way to safely and conveniently haul your snow kit wherever you roam. To help wade through the sea of available options, we compiled a list of the best ski racks on the market (these work for snowboards, too), as well a few extra things to keep in mind when shopping.
With a load capacity for up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards, Thule’s Snowpack Extender is equipped with a useful slide-out feature that allows you to access it from both sides of your car. This means you won’t have to stretch over the car or run back and forth from one side to the other while loading your gear. Plus, it extends away from the vehicle so you’ll never get hosed with a spray of rooftop snow when you remove your skis.
Each rack arm is covered in soft-scratch-free rubber grips which hold your gear firmly in place without leaving any marks. Best of all, Thule’s One-Key system allows you to swap out the lock cores and use a single universal key for all accessories, meaning if you ski in the winter and surf or kayak in the summer, you won’t have to juggle separate sets of keys.
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With its classic one-button access, this longtime favorite from Yakima saw recent design upgrade with a few extra bells and whistles. As mentioned, you simply press a button to pop the rack open in order to access your skis or snowboards, making it easy to operate while wearing gloves or even thick bulky mittens.
It’s also easy to install with a simple hex wrench and comes with universal hardware which fits with round, square, and aero-style bars. The locks are smooth and straightforward and the rack features a clever binding lift that allows you to put your gear face down without scratching the roof of your car. Perhaps the most convincing quality is the fact it costs just $140 — the definition of bang for your buck.
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If you have a compact car that won’t easily accommodate a roof rack — or you don’t want the hassle of installing a crossbar system — Thule’s Tram attachment is a great option that fits on the back of your car via most hitch-mounted bike racks. The rack attachment features sturdy two-inch receiver racks that hold up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards, freeing up space inside your car without loading down the roof.
If you already have a bike rack, you’re able to check if it’s compatible with the Tram and if not, you can purchase Thule’s Parkway rack to use as a base. The rack holds your skis or snowboards upright to maximize space but the only drawback is that some people may complain the skis pick up gravel and dirt by hanging that low to the road. Though it won’t damage your gear it may force a few extra trips to the tune shop.
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More petite than the full-width roof racks that stretch across the car, RockyMount’s LiftOp Smalls is a great choice if you want to keep part of your roof free for bikes, kayaks, or other sporting goods. This compact rack fits two snowboards or up to three pairs of fat skis, perfect for folks who venture out in smaller crews.
With a sleek tubular design around the edges, the LiftOp Smalls is quiet and aerodynamic, keeping your gas mileage high and reducing the need to shout over music due to a noisy roof. It has an easy-click operation so you can add or remove skis with minimal effort and also features secure, durable locks. The soft padding not only protects your gear from getting scratched but also prevents skis from wobbling around.
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Kuat recently jumped into the snow category and built the company’s first ever ski and snowboard rack. Similar to Thule’s Extender, this slide-out roof rack pulls away from the car, allowing you to loads skis and snowboards without climbing on your tires or opening and closing your side doors.
The GRIP, which Kuat unveiled in January at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver, features a tight and secure system that uses locking mechanisms at the points where the rack clamps onto your car, ensuring your gear stays snugly in place. It’s made of a tough all-metal shell with a sleek gray finish and an aesthetically-pleasing orange accent. The GRIP comes in two sizes and releases Fall 2018.
A cargo box is a fantastic alternative to a standard rack if you want to have extra space outside your rig to throw in boots, jackets, helmets, or other gear. Yakima’s Skybox Carbonite 21 is the largest of the series, accommodating a whopping 10 sets of skis in its 21 cubic feet of space. It has a dual-sided opening and an ultra-strong SuperLatch to guarantee the lid won’t fly open, sending your gear flying across the highway.
The shape of the box is also highly aerodynamic with a shape that minimizes rumple and reduces the sound of wind whipping through the sides. If the 21 seems a bit on the large side, the Carbonite is also available in Lo, 12, 16, and 18 sizes.
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Things to consider
There are a plenty of options to consider when shopping for a ski or snowboard rack. First, you want to make sure the fack itself is quiet and doesn’t make a lot of noise while driving. Listening to wind whistle loudly through your crossbars gets annoying fast — trust us. You also want to make sure the bars are aerodynamic so any extra bulk on the roof doesn’t significantly hinder your gas mileage when not in use.
The bars should be sturdy and durable to last a long time and should also support a lot of weight. Finally, any rack should be easy to use — accessible from the side of your car, effortless to open and close, and smooth to lock and unlock.
One of the main decisions you need to make when buying a ski rack concerns the type of bars you want to use. There are three main categories: Round, square, and aero. Round options are commonly associated with Yakima brand racks, are moderately priced, and tend to be fairly quiet and aerodynamic. Square racks, most associated with Thule, make more noise but are much cheaper. Then there are aero style bars. These are often found in factory racks, are the quietest, and most aerodynamic but are also the most expensive.
There are endless options for installing your new racks but each depends on what type of car you have and what your roof looks like. Maybe you roof has raised sidewalls built-in or smooth factory tracks. Perhaps there’s completely bare surface or you’re using a truck-top canopy. Options range from attaching side brackets and clipping on mounts to literally drilling holes in the top of your roof to permanently mount them.
Most rack manufacturers offer adapter kits, so after picking out your bars and mounting them, you can choose from a variety of compatible racks. That said, if you have a specific rack in mind before you buy your crossbars, it’s a good idea to double check their compatibility.
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