Flat Top Ski Carrier
The King Kong and Godzilla of the car-rack world are, of course, Yakima and Thule. They both make extremely strong, versatile systems, similarly priced, and I don't really have a preference. I use a Yakima rack, and like it very much, but that's also because I started out with Yakima many years ago and stuck with it. Some people prefer Thule's square crossbars to Yakima's round ones. Both are extremely durable, long-lasting systems.
Let's say you want to use one or the other for skis and snowboards, and you've got a pretty typical vehicle with rain gutters but no factory roof rack. For Yakima, you'd first need a set of four 1A Raingutter Towers ($119; www.yakima.com). Then, two crossbars ($50 per pair). Finally, the Big Powderhound SE Ski Mount ($100) carries up to six pairs of skis or four snowboards—or various combinations of both. So you've spent $269, more or less. In the future, you can always add more ski-carrying capacity, bike racks, kayak racks, you name it.
For Thule, a comparable setup starts with the Gutter Foot Pack ($125 for set of four; www.thuleracks.com). A pair of crossbars for those towers runs $50. Finally, the Flat Top Six Ski Carrier, which holds six sets of skis (imagine that) or four snowboards, runs $110. Total here: $285. As with the Yakima, you can go on to add all manner of holders, boxes, luggage racks, and so on.
More sport racks reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.