- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Mountain Characters
- Published: January 21, 2014
- Last Updated: January 21, 2014
John Wilberding served as a volunteer ski patroller on Mount Hood for 38 years, but he may be best known as The Rev.
It started as a joke in a bar. A friend introduced himself as "Dr. Lust," then introduced Wilberding as "The Rev."
Before long, Wilberding was officially ordained in the self-invented Congregation of Outdoor Worship, or COW. This made him the Holy COW. Told he would need a Board of Directors for legitimacy, he recruited several Elders, earned official approval for his COW, and started doing individualized weddings on Mount Hood.
"I believe that everyone has the right to the ceremony that suits them," he says.
Over time, his duties as the Rev became more serious and somber. He found himself presiding over the funerals of popular mountain characters such as Jack Mitchem and Verne Lawrence, the lifelong friend who convinced John to try out for the ski patrol in 1967.
Wilberding moved to Oregon from Pittsburgh with his family in 1964. He was an "enthusiastic and not particularly good skier" in his words. During a chairlift ride his buddy Verne Lawrence suggested trying out for patrol, then bet John a pitcher of beer that he could pass the test.
"They had the test at Timberline that year, and it was just classic Cascade Concrete," Wilberding recalls, chuckling. "Both the examiners fell, and I managed to link together several disastrous turns. Apparently that was good enough."
Before long John Wilberding was a member of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol, the longest running volunteer patrol organization in the American West. He helped pioneer patrolling at Mt. Hood Meadows back in the days when Hwy. 35 was closed all winter, served as patrol chief and training director, helped bring in radios to improve on-hill communications, pushed for equal treatment and inclusion for women patrollers, judged some wild and crazy Schnee "Kandabeer" races, met Suzy Chapstick, Billy Kidd and Bill Johnson, and rescued countless injured kids and adults over a long and distinguished career on the mountain.
In recognition of John Wilberding's years of service and many contributions to Mount Hood culture, the Skiyente Ski Club has selected him as King Winter 2014. He will be officially crowned at the King Winter Coronation and Dance scheduled for Saturday, February 8 at Charlie's. Tickets are $15 and proceeds will benefit the Mt. Hood Museum, the Erin Nicole Scholarship and Skiyente charities.
Skiyente, the longest running all-women's ski club in the United States, has been honoring King Winters (both men and women) since 1956. Past winners include Fred Noble, Betty Dodd and Sheri and Dale Parshall.
Wilberding says he is honored to join such fine company. With typical self-deprecating humor, he describes himself as the "Piper Cub of skiing. I'm low and slow, but I can wrestle a 250-pound guy out of a tree well and onto the sled. At least I used to be able to."
Wilberding retired from the Mt. Hood patrol after suffering a painful fall in 2005 on a pure white-out day up on Palmer. Now 79 years old, he walks hunched over and suffers from back and ankle injuries. But he remains an active and enthusiastic skier, getting in 20 days a year or more.
"Patrolling was a lot of work, but I loved it," he says. "It was a way to do what I loved to do and still make a contribution. It gave me a sense of purpose."
He passed that sense of purpose down to his daughter Lisa Hargrave, who is also a member of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol and handles the organization's communications. Lisa will be attending the King Winter Coronation on February 8, as will John Wilberding's two other children, Fred Wilberding and Jane Holbrook. Many other friends and colleagues from John Wilberding's long and lively tenure on Mount Hood will also be in attendance.
Got memories to share? Readers are welcome and encouraged to tell their Reverend John King Winter stories in the comments section below.