Back of House: Harmonee Johnson and Chloe Butel

words: Ally Watson
photos: Mary T. Walsh

The first time I did a park build with another woman was the only time I did. Not because it wasn’t successful or we didn’t want to continue, we simply didn’t have the opportunity to work together enough to continue collaborating on our park crew. That particular build was unequivocal, and I lend that feeling entirely to be a result of working with another woman. The thing about building terrain parks is that the average park rider isn’t considering who is behind the rake, and even further, who is behind the cat.

Harmonee Johnson. Take the Rake 2021. Trollhaugen, Wisconsin.

Meet Harmonee Johnson and Chloe Butel, two park builders that are stirring up the industry as the only female cat operators in their respective terrain parks. Harmonee and Chloe have been designing and building parks for a combined fifteen years. Harmonee, with a decade- long career, currently ranks as one of the higher-ups at Mammoth Unbound, and Chloe is closing in on her fifth year of barrier-breaking work at Sierra-at-Tahoe, Northstar, and Timberline. What is most disheartening about the space that Harmonee and Chloe occupy is that there are few other women in the landscape. Harmonee is the only female cat operator in a field of 60-plus at Mammoth Mountain, while Chloe is one of two female operators at Northstar, and the first female park operator in history at Timberline. But the work they both are doing is building a foundation for other women to join and the reverberations of their actions are increasingly visible across the industry.

The experience of both Chloe and Harmonee is cut from the same cloth, a cloth that has been mopping up gender disparity for years. Both women express a sentiment of silence among male cohorts, where early in their careers they lacked the confidence and autonomy to express themselves wholly. Working through the ranks and ruffling feathers along the way has allowed both to create a platform for themselves where they can break down barriers and showcase the potential for women in the industry. “I feel like I have to work five times as hard as the next guy to get the same amount of respect,” says Johnson. Synonymously, Chloe has felt that she “had to shut up so [she] didn’t stand out as the girl.”

As if getting in the cat wasn’t difficult enough, earning the opportunity to become park builders was a hurdle in itself. Upon surpassing that hurdle, both women worked as hard as possible in hopes that the calibre of their work would speak for itself. Butel points out, “So many women are so talented and work so hard because they had to work hard to even get in. I have to prove myself every day that I’m out there.”

Chloe Butel. Take the Rake 2021. Trollhaugen, Wisconsin.

Chloe has proven herself time and time again with her progressive and creative style. She loves to design and build parks that offer variety and flow with features that can be hit from various angles and taken small, medium, or large. She is bringing inclusivity to the space she works in as well as the space that she builds. Harmonee, on the other hand, has moved up the ladder within Unbound, building and maintaining halfpipes of various sizes and working on Grand Prix-level courses and high-performance camps. She has proven herself at an elite level. But why do these women feel so innately that they have to prove themselves at all?

The difference in the level of work between men, women, and nonbinary individuals is obsolete, yet the numbers of those working in this landscape don’t match up. “It’s the question that everybody asks, How do you get more women involved and why aren’t there more?” says Johnson while questioning her own shortage of female companionship within the field. It seems to come down to lack of representation, and with that comes lack of access, space, and pathways to enter the field.

Mountain Operations—commonly referred to as operations or simply ops—is a broad sweeping department at ski resorts that encompasses most of what happens behind the scenes to allow the given resort to function. It includes lift operations, lift maintenance, snowmaking, grooming, terrain parks, and other skilled labor fields required to keep the wheels turning. The concealed nature of working behind the scenes makes visibility and representation for women even more inconspicuous.

What is beginning to dismantle those concrete structures that barricade access to the operations side of the industry are events like Take the Rake, where Harmonee and Chloe met in November 2021. The all-women’s park building event took place at Trollhaugen Resort in Wisconsin and was spearheaded six months prior at Pitch Sessions, a women-fueled panel discussion held at Snowboy Productions’ IT’S TITS! that featured Trollhaugen marketing director, Marsha Hovey. Both Chloe and Harmonee describe Marsha as a catalyst for change in the future of women’s snowboarding, and her ability to fight for events like this to exist is monumental for the inclusion and visibility of women in the arena of terrain park building.

“I didn’t realize there were other women out there until we got together,” says Johnson when discussing her time at Take the Rake. That sentiment holds true for many of the event attendees who act as the only woman on their respective park crews. Being able to gather at Trollhaugen to work entirely with women was an impetus in redistributing space and building up visibility for females in the terrain park field.

“The fact that we are all here and so many women see the numbers, that representation is the reason these events make such a difference,” Butel proclaims with passion. “Representation of women in the industry right in front of your face. It’s very powerful for other women to feel encouraged.” Chloe and Harmonee both pushed through the proverbial quicksand to gain the positions they hold now, battling internalized silence and lack of community on a path to act as role models and create safe representative space for women to enter the field.

As operators, working swing and grave shifts behind a machine, Chloe and Harmonee sit in a cloaked space that in the best of times lacks visibility. Having an open-door policy and willingness to mentor those interested in getting into a cat has snowballed since Take the Rake, with multiple peers of theirs moving from park crew to sit in or operate a cat. Harmonee is part of a shadow program with Unbound that allows park crew members paid time in a cat with a mentor. One underlooked barrier in this side of terrain park building is that most operators spend countless hours of their own time sitting in on a shift with a mentor before ever touching the controls. Taking part in a mentorship program that gives paid time to those interested is a valuable step in breaking down the apparatus that keeps women out of the industry.

Through the pushbacks, hard work, and nose-to-the-grindstone approach to operations, Chloe and Harmonee are now at the forefront of female recognition in the terrain park industry, and in doing so have been able to share their experiences and invite other women to step into bigger roles, while asking men to be allies along the way. Being a part of industry-shattering events has fueled the drive to unpack structures of oppression and build up community that holds space for women in the industry. Unsure how she got to where she is, with a humble tone, Chloe says, “I’ve been given this platform and I want to use it however I can to facilitate space for women in the industry and push my space forward, and do whatever I can for both myself, and women in general, to be able to excel and learn, and also survive.”

Harmonee and Chloe have both staked their claim as valuable and talented operators that bring plenty to the table. As things have begun to snowball into place for the two of them, they have taken it upon themselves to rewrite the narrative by building up the women around them and pushing to create visibility, while advocating for other women to join them.

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