I’ve spent a lot of years working in ski shops and one question I can count on hearing numerous times every winter is what’s the best way to transport my skis or snowboard? Whether visiting your local ski hill or heading into the backcountry, there’s no golden rule for how to transport your skis or snowboard. Both roof boxes and ski racks have their advantages and disadvantages, and understanding them can help you make an informed decision on which method is best for you.

Why Use a Roof Box or Ski Rack?

Do you need a roof box or ski rack for your vehicle? In theory, no, you can carry skis and snowboards inside your vehicle. However, they free up valuable space inside your vehicle for passengers and/or your other ski equipment. Boxes and racks also save a fair bit of wear and tear on the inside of your vehicle, as the sharp edges found on skis and snowboards can also wreak havoc on your interior. Stowing your skis/snowboard inside your car is also a sure way to drag snow, ice, and dirt into your vehicle.

Getting skis out of a roof box
Credit: Thule

Roof Box Pros and Cons

Roof boxes come in a wide range of sizes and configurations, meaning there’s likely a box available that meets your unique needs. Just remember when looking at roof boxes to make sure that it’s long enough to carry your skis.


  • Versatility: Cargo boxes can accommodate more than just skis and snowboards. For example, your poles, boots, and helmet can all go in the box when space inside your vehicle is at a premium.
  • Seasonality: Whether it’s fishing poles in the summer or luggage for your annual fall family trip, roof boxes are handy year-round and are designed to carry more than just skis/snowboards.
  • Security: Is your roof box empty or does it contain a custom set of skis mounted with the latest bindings? Unless someone watches you load your box, they’ll never know, lessening the chance of theft.
  • Protection: Skis and snowboards are protected from dirt, debris, and salt when traveling in a roof box. This reduces the chances for damage, lessens tuning time, improves performance, and extends the life of equipment.


  • Cost: Cargo boxes are comparatively expensive, with prices for the top-of-the-line boxes exceeding $2,000.
  • Gas mileage: It should come as no surprise, but attaching a big bubble to the top of your car makes it less aerodynamic and, consequently, less fuel efficient. How much a box hurts fuel economy will vary depending on a host of factors.
  • Bulky: Cargo boxes are big and awkward. This creates a variety of challenges, including getting them on and off your car to storing them when not in use. (Pro tip: Think about where you’re going to store your box when it’s not on your car before buying.)
  • Height: Roof boxes add height to your vehicle, which can cause problems, especially for already-tall vehicles. Adding a roof box to your vehicle may mean your car no longer fits in your garage or can safely go through the Starbucks drive-through. You may also need a small ladder or step stool to get into the box when it’s on your car.
Ski rack
Credit: Thule

Ski Rack Pros and Cons

Ski/snowboard racks are available in an abundance of styles and typically work by attaching to a factory rack or aftermarket roof rack, like those made by Thule.


  • Easy on/off: Typically, ski racks attach with just a few bolts, which makes them easy to remove when not in use. Ski racks are comparatively compact and simple to store when not installed on a car.
  • Aerodynamics: Ski racks are more aerodynamic than cargo boxes. While they will detract from your vehicle’s gas mileage, their influence on fuel economy is less severe.
  • Lower form factor: Ski racks have a lower profile than roof boxes and will have less effect on your car’s clearance—something to think about if the height of your vehicle plus what you put on its roof is a concern. (Pro tip: If you plan on parking in a garage—whether at home or work—know the height your vehicle will be with the box/rack and make sure it’s under your required clearances.)


  • Less secure: Although many ski/snowboard racks lock, your valuable ski gear is more visible to potential thieves in a ski rack.
  • More exposed: Skis and snowboards riding in a ski rack are subject to elements like dirt, road grime, and salt—none of which is good for your skis or snowboards, especially road salt.
  • Ski specific: Ski/snowboard racks are made for one purpose: transporting your skis and boards. They can’t carry other snowsport-related gear, nor can they transition to other seasons, like carrying your hiking packs in the summer.
  • Tough to reach: Although ski racks won’t add as much height to a vehicle as a cargo box will, they can still be tricky to access, particularly on tall vehicles like SUVs and trucks. In other words, you may still need a small ladder or step stool to reach your rack.
Car with ski roof box
Credit: Thule

Make the Most of Your Cargo Box or Ski Rack

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of neat tricks for maximizing the performance of roof boxes and ski racks. One favorite tip for box owners is to place a yoga mat on the bottom of the box to prevent gear from sliding around. Another strategy for keeping ski gear in place is to put foam blocks in your box with slits cut to hold your skis’ and boards’ tips and tails.

Skiers and riders using a roof rack can overcome one of its main limitations—exposing skis/boards to the elements—by giving their gear a quick rinse at the end of their day. While most of us pack up our hoses in the fall, the shower offers an easy, self-contained place to wash the grime from your skis. I can’t tell you how many really nice skis I see per season with their edges super-rusted from road salt.

What to Choose, a Roof Box or a Ski Rack?

For me, I’ve found a cargo box is the better choice. For most of the winter, a snowboard along with a pair of backcountry skis, telemark skis, and XC skis call my roof box home. You’ll also probably find a snow kite in the box as well. This way I am almost always ready to go, whether it’s dumping pow or I drive by a prime spot to break out my kite.