Rob Kincaid’s basement is littered with dead animals. Sixty stuffed heads of deer, caribou and even a zebra hang on the walls. In one corner of the room is a full-sized diorama of a rocky ledge, on which there’s a taxidermied black bear and three bighorn sheep.
“I shot that Dall Sheep in the Denali wilderness in Alaska and it took me 27 hours to haul it back to my camp,” he says of the snow-white animal. “I don’t want to sound like a prick, but if I was a professional hunter, I’d be one of the best in the world.”
Kincaid’s not a professional hunter, however; he’s a pro snowmobiler. He is best known for competing in hill-climb events, races in which snowmobilers race up mountains and between gates, and he has won two world championships. And for his backcountry snowmobile videos—clips of him barreling through three feet of snow and catching 100 feet of air off of cornices that he shoots for one of his sponsors, Motorfist, and plasters all over social media. While those feats are enough to win you a decent following, it’s truly Kincaid’s mountain-man persona—that of the hunter, trapper and farmer— that endears him to his fans, all of whom refer to him as “Rocky Mountain Rob.”
On Instagram, where Kincaid has nearly 6,000 followers, you can find photos of him launching his snowmobile through powder fields next to images of him posing with an elk he just shot. And though he sports a neatly groomed beard, he’s comfortable in camouflage and pronounces creek as “crick.” “I’m just a redneck,” he says with great pride. Or, in the parlance of the sport, a “sledneck.” And to plenty of slednecks, Kincaid is their king.
At 42, Kincaid is also the elder statesman of a sport dominated by 20-somethings. “I didn’t really start racing full time until five years ago,” says Kincaid. “But I think that’s good. I have the same passion as the young guys but I also have a bit more maturity and experience. It’s not just how fast you are, it’s also about reading the snow and knowing how to be smooth.”
As the king moves around his 5,300-square-foot log cabin in Victor, Idaho—which has a garden, greenhouse, horses, chickens, turkeys, pigs and three freezers full of game meat—he hobbles with a limp. A few weeks ago, he’d been riding near home, hit a cornice and gotten his foot stuck in the snowmobile’s running board. He pitched forward and chipped bones and tore ligaments in his ankle. Just a few days later, he was at the start line of an X Games qualifying event in Crested Butte, Colorado, where he managed to secure a spot in the annual winter showdown in Aspen in late January.
“I had to do it,” he says with a grin. “It’s the X Games.”
For most of us, snowmobiling is a recreational sport (a once-a-winter opportunity to putt around open meadows and take in the wildlife during a family ski vacation). But for thousands of people, snowmobile racing is big-time, high-octane competition. It began in the late ’70s with guys, mostly in the Rocky Mountains, getting together and racing each other up local ski hills and has evolved into fully sponsored events that draw crowds as big as 20,000 people. The largest and most respected racing circuit is the Rocky Mountain States HillClimb Association, which holds nine races throughout Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. At last year’s world championship, held annually at Snow King Resort in Wyoming, 150 competitors participated and the winner took home $10,000.
But the only exposure most Americans have to snowmobile racing is the X Games, which has broadcast races and aerial events (in which riders do tricks off jumps) on ESPN since 1998. Kincaid knows that a good finish in a race there can expand his growing brand. But qualifying for the X Games means his excursions into the Teton Mountain backcountry, which surround his home, are on hold for while.
Kincaid walks through Victor’s back roads on the way to the garage that houses his snowmobiles. He was born in Sturgis, Michigan, but his family moved to Idaho when he was 3. “We were poor,” says Kincaid. “My father made us work hard. I had to ride my bike around the valley and move sprinkler pipe and pour concrete. I didn’t have summer vacation. He taught me that nothing comes easy, and I’m sure that it’s helped me become a better athlete.”
Kincaid grew up playing basketball but his true love was the outdoors. At 3 he was already trapping animals and chasing grouse and rabbits around with his BB gun. By the ’90s, Kincaid became enamored of backcountry skiing, a sport that was growing in popularity in the mountains surrounding nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Like everything else I do, it was pretty extreme,” he says. “We’d hike into the backcountry and build jumps on top of cliffs and do backflips off them.”
But Kincaid’s backcountry focus changed when, in 1995, he purchased his first snowmobile. “I’d always wanted one,” he says. “I just never had the money.” Within a year he was racing, usually placing in the top five. “But I never won,” he says. It wasn’t until 2010, when Kincaid says he had an epiphany, that he began claiming victories. “I have two kids and I’m teaching them to give 100 percent,” he says. “I felt like I needed to do that with snowmobiling to set that example—be all in or all out. It’s hard. Now I ride 20 miles a day on a practice track.”
For his efforts, Kincaid takes home a couple thousand dollars for wins and about $50,000 in sponsorships. It’s still not enough to give up the drywall business that he started in 2009, but he does manage to spend several hours snowmobiling every day. “I have great employees,” he says.
We arrive at the garage and Kincaid shows me his sled, a 300-horsepower green and black machine specially built by his sponsor, Arctic Cat. “There are only two of these in the world,” he says. “It’s comparable to a Formula One car.”
Kincaid hops on and blasts toward an open field where his mechanic, Jason Nethercott, is sitting in a bulldozer, plowing snow into jumps and banked turns. Kincaid has a lot of support from hometown fans, and a local farmer allowed him to create this quarter-mile course in his field to help Kincaid train for the X Games.
He drops the throttle and tears 20 feet over a jump, landing short on the backside of it, then throws on the breaks before a big turn. He then makes his way over to Nethercott. “I can’t quite clear the jump,” Kincaid says to him. “That’s kinda the idea,” Nethercott responds. “X Games will be tough, and we need to get you out of your comfort zone.” Kincaid agrees and goes around for another spin, this time easily clearing the jump and tearing through the banked turn.
According to Nethercott, who’s worked with Kincaid since 2005, he’s riding better than he ever has in his career. A lot of that is thanks to his strict fitness regimen—Kincaid is serious CrossFitter and will log 100 miles of single track a week on his mountain bike in the summer—but credit also goes to Dave McLure, Kincaid’s Arctic Cat teammate. “They push each other to be better,” says Nethercott. “Everything is a competition between them—from eating a sandwich to pumping gas.”
But the two are also inseparable friends. McLure, 29, met Kincaid in 2008, and Kincaid invited him on a backcountry excursion. “We’d been out all day and it was getting dark,” McLure recalls. “I was freezing and couldn’t see anything, and Rob says, ‘Don’t go too far left or you’ll go over cliffs. And don’t go too far right or you’ll hit trees. It was an adrenaline rush and we’ve been riding together ever since.”
At the X Games, McLure is one of the first to hear about Kincaid’s crash. It had happened during a training run when another competitor flew off a jump and landed on Kincaid’s back. “I was panicked,” says McLure. “I was like, can my buddy walk? Is he conscious?”
Kincaid was banged up but that’s nothing new. And in typical fashion, he was still at the start line for the race—which also didn’t go well. During the first lap, Kincaid was thrown from his sled and hit by another rider, caught in the skis of that competitor’s snowmobile, and dragged 50 feet.
But Kincaid’s misfortune at the X Games might actually help grow his fan base. “Snowmobilers like their heroes to be tough,” says McLure. “The best thing about Rob is that he shakes off the crashes and just keeps going.”
“I’m the crusty old redneck who got run over and kept going,” adds Kincaid. “I’m like the Clint Eastwood of the sport.”
And like Eastwood, it seems nothing can stop Kincaid. Just a few days after returning from the
X Games, Kincaid posted a picture to his Instagram account. The photo is of Kincaid, helmeted and goggled and giving a thumbs-up as he gazes into the backcountry. “So great to be back home and out rippin’ in the backyard!” he writes. “We sure could use a big dumping. Think a storm’s on the way.”