Snowmobilers Mourn Rick Ward, Hillclimb Legend and Mentor to Western Racers

Father, Farmer & Racer, He Oversaw Polaris Western Racing Program


Photo by Polaris Industries

The Polaris family and the snowmobile world is coming to grips with the death of Rick Ward, perhaps the greatest hillclimber in history and one of the best gentlemen on the Western racing circuit.

The longtime Polaris hillclimber, cross-country racer and manager of the company’s Western racing program, died Tuesday, September 1, in a motor vehicle accident near his Sugar City home. He was 47.

Ward’s name had become synonymous with the term “King of the Hill.” During his long hillclimbing career he won 18 world championships, countless class titles and numerous King of the Hill honors at events throughout the West. He was not only a successful racer but a mentor and inspiration to many younger racers who admired the way he prepared his sleds, the way he rode and the way he graciously accepted the outcome.

Win or lose – and it was most often “win” – he was a sportsman. He celebrated victory with dignity and was always ready to congratulate competitors.

“This is a tragic loss of a great friend and an amazingly talented snowmobile racer,” said Polaris Racing Manager Tom Rager, Sr. “He was a tremendous asset to our racing program and he set an outstanding example, particularly for Western racers.”

Scott Swenson, Vice President of the Polaris Snowmobile and PG&A Division, said the entire Polaris family of employees, dealers and snowmobilers is saddened by Ward’s death. “Rick was a tremendous hillclimber and a great leader for our Western program,” Swenson said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Michelle, their three children and his entire family.”

Ward, who made his living as a farmer, was a multi-time winner at the Jackson Hole World Championship Hillclimb and was a fixture in the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association. He raced exclusively on Polaris snowmobiles, and in recent years served as the manager of the company’s Western racing program, with a focus on hillclimbs.

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As recently as 2007, Ward was still winning titles at Jackson Hole. That year he added to his legendary Jackson Hole resume, winning three classes and leading the Polaris racers as they won a dominating 45% of all classes at the event.

In 2006, Ward won Stock King of the Hill honors at Jackson Hole after winning the Pro Masters Stock and Pro 600 Stock classes.

Following that 2006 victory, Polaris Racing Manager Tom Rager, Sr., said, “Our strong showing was the result of a total team effort that was led by Rick Ward, one of the best-organized and most-successful competitors in hillclimb history. Out West, Rick is in charge of our hillclimb program, and this World Championship success is testimony to his leadership skills.”

Ward was extremely talented at building hillclimb sleds, and he had extraordinary riding skills that helped him optimize the sled’s performance regardless of the conditions on race day. When Polaris racers traveled west for events such as the Winter X Games or snocross racing at West Yellowstone, Montana, Ward helped them tune their engines to perform at high altitude.

Each year when new Polaris Deep Snow sleds were developed, Ward dissected them to learn how they could best be set up for hillclimbs, and he shared that information with Western Polaris racers.

Survivors include his wife Michelle, two daughters and a son. Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Sugar City LDS Stake Center. Visitation is Friday, Sept. 4, from 6-8 p.m. at the Flamm Funeral Home in Rexburg, and Saturday at the Stake Center from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Additional details are available, and online condolences may be sent to the Ward family, at www.flammfh.com