Are Ski Racks Worth It? [Pros & Cons to Consider]

There’s no resisting the call of the mountains when we know there’s fresh powder. When we’ve booked time off or packed up a full workweek to free up a weekend of skiing, there’s no time to waste. We need to get our skis to the hill.  

Whatever you’ve done to secure your skis en route, getting to the lift with your skis intact is paramount to planning any ski trip. Maybe you’ve jimmied your pair to the roof or trapped them inside a van rather than risking your skis flying off.

If you’ve had a few years traversing the slopes, you’ve probably wondered if it was time for another ski-related investment: the ski rack!

Ski racks are a safe, efficient, and affordable method for transporting ski equipment. While they are more cost-effective than cargo boxes, they are less versatile and hold less gear.

The humble ski rack has been around for a long time, and there are many options out there. So let’s take a deeper look to really find out if it makes sense for you.

Ski Rack Pros & Cons

If you own skis or are considering making that leap from frequent renter to owner, you’ve likely already pondered if you also need a ski rack. The answer to that question isn’t a simple yes or no.

Ski racks come with advantages and disadvantages, but going without them also has its own pros and cons!

Ski racks can be mounted a few ways, most commonly on the roof bar or a hitch rack. The most significant advantage of exterior vehicle storage is freeing up space inside.

Another advantage of a ski rack is improved driving safety. With your equipment secured safely outside, there are no loose loads in your car that might fly when you unexpectedly hit the brakes or take a sharp turn.

Mountain driving can go hand in hand with undesirable road conditions, even along well-maintained routes.

Moving equipment to a rack or other outside storage system also allows for better visibility. You might have a vehicle with enough length to push down a seat and lay your skis flat. Or you might need those seats up for passengers, and you’ve angled your skis.

If you’ve experienced the latter, you’ve probably done a double-check on your skis or poles when you heard a sudden shifting behind you.

Imagine highway driving on your way to the hill with your uncovered equipment outside of your vehicle. Your skis will face the weather and any debris, human-made or natural, flying by while you’re cruising at highway speeds!

The same is true for hitch racks, which place your skis closer to the ground. Depending on road conditions and how far you travel, you might sling mud or gravel for an hour or more.

Accidentally damaging or at least dirtying your equipment en route is a potential disadvantage for most ski racks.

While damage is possible, ski racks can also prevent distress with a secure hold that limits movement. Different price points will guarantee additional protection, but your skis are making it to the hill.

Price is another significant factor when purchasing a ski rack. If you keep your skis as free floaters in the back of your truck, you’re not coughing up cash for a rack.

However, you might pay more when a sudden hit to the brakes causes cracked skis, scratched interior windows, or other expected destruction. 

The most worthwhile ski racks are expensive, with a few exceptions. Cargo boxes, a common alternative, can be even more pricey because they hold more. If you want the convenience of interior space, it can be worth the cost.

How Many Skis Can a Ski Rack Hold?

Are you a lone-skier? Or are you part of a ski club?

The number of people you’re traveling with can help determine whether you need a ski rack.

Ski racks are available in multiple sizes and styles. Large ski racks can carry six pairs, with smaller ski racks holding four. Most racks accommodate both skis and snowboards.

If it’s just you or you’re the only one in the group to own skis, the upfront cost of a ski rack might seem ridiculous. Most ski racks hold a minimum of four pairs of skis. Tying down a pair of skis in the back of a car can save you money without using up too much space.

If a ski club is carpooling, you could have more than six pairs for a vehicle with five or more passengers. Or maybe you divide it into traveling groups and ski racks made for four to six pairs will easily accommodate each vehicle’s driver and passengers.

Ski racks are most helpful when you need to secure more than two pairs, but no more than six. Prices find a happy medium for value and cost when built for four pairs.

Do Ski Racks Protect Skis?

The short answer: It depends on you.

The long answer deserves a separate article because, like any technology, it only works with its users. With research and some expert advice, you can find a ski rack that protects your skis and suits your needs.

If you can’t trust a ski rack to do this, then it isn’t the right choice for you!

The disadvantage of most ski racks is that they don’t cover your skis. If rain or hail pelts your vehicle, your skis get pelted too.

Dirt from the road might be evident on your skis after a journey, or it might not. Exterior storage, over time, can have a general wear and tear effect on your skis.

If you plan on stopping for food or overnight somewhere, having them visibly exposed on top of your vehicle could also be tempting for thieves. While locks are available for most, simply having them out of sight can sometimes be the best deterrent.

Protecting your skis should be the number one quality of any method you use to get your skis from point A to point B. Sometimes the easiest option is to use something invented for the task at hand.

That doesn’t mean it’s the only easy option, as some alternatives can be as effective! Let’s cover some of those now 😉

Ski Rack Alternatives

We mentioned the classic jimmying to the roof method earlier. Still, we should probably discuss a few more realistic alternatives to a ski rack. 

Inside the Car

If the name of the game is cheap and straightforward, you can stow your equipment in the back of your vehicle unaided. Now it’s not as simple as tossing them inside and hoping for the best, but it is an option that requires no additional purchases.

If you have bungee cords or something else to tie your skis and poles, this can go a long way to avoid damage to your skis and your vehicle.

You might have a long enough bag to shield your skis further. A tarp or a large blanket can do the trick just as well.

Cargo Boxes

Cargo boxes are closed containers and are reliable for weatherproof storage. Most are locked bins. You might want to avoid the crime of opportunity by making it harder for thieves to pass and grab.

Cargo boxes come in two basic size options, long and short. It would help if you compared the dimensions of the box with the measurements of your skis. The size also allows you to store other equipment.

You can fit your ski boots and poles, but you might also shove in a ski helmet, jacket, or anything else you don’t need with you in the car.

Most new cargo boxes have dual-side openings, meaning left and right. You can access your storage from either side of your vehicle.

The shape is aerodynamic, which can be a relief to your ears if you’re sensitive to that wind-drag sound, and it helps with gas mileage. 

Your vehicle must have a roof rack to install, and many need additional crossbars. Over time, the hinges can weaken with wear and tear.

Another complaint is about keys. They’re the delicate kind and have been known to break.

If you’re the type who loses keys, you can count on this being an issue with lockable cargo boxes as well!

A word of caution about running into things: cargo boxes add height. Remember those overhead signs warning about height restrictions?

Well, that could be you now! If you do forget, a tell-tale scraping sound will be a dead giveaway. In the best-case scenario, you get a little dent and back away immediately.

Worst case scenario, you crack the cargo box open, and you can lose or damage the inside contents.

Ski Bags

You can use a ski bag inside your vehicle for added protection, or you can attach the bag outside.

With bungee cords and other ties, you can secure a ski bag for your roof or truck bed. If you like redundant security, string ropes through as many handles as you can.

You won’t need a roof rack, and you can carry the bag directly from your vehicle to the ski hill. Unfortunately, you won’t fit your ski boots or a helmet in any size of bag designed for skis. Most have space for ski poles and have smaller storage compartments for goggles and gloves.

Ski bags are another cost-saving option. It’s also compact and lightweight. You can easily roll it up and tuck it away when not in use. Some have padded protection.

The best are roller bags, which will make hauling easier. All that equipment can be heavy after a long day on the slopes.

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