Chloe Butel: Leading Play-gression Among Female Park Builders
“You can’t have the big line without the little line.”
A simple sentiment, yet one which Sierra-at-Tahoe centers around. As a resort that’s produced multiple Olympic medalists + other professional athletes, people may perceive Sierra as somewhere that only caters to big air. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sierra’s General Manager of almost 30 years, John Rice, drives a philosophy of Progression (also referred to as Playgression) that gets seeped into everything we do at the mountain. Rice came to Sierra on the cutting edge of terrain park development and has been an advocate for pushing the boundaries of park design + function since before he joined the Sierra family. When building some of the first parks at Bear Mountain, he knew, “if we do this the right way, if we build this stuff the right way, then people can enjoy the activity of leaving the Earth and coming back down in a relatively safe way.” As the sport developed + with key partnerships with Burton and a group called Snow Operating, Sierra’s slopes became a testing lab to pioneer the use of shaped terrain as a means to learn and progress.
John Rice not only advocates for progression among guests that come to Sierra but applies the pillar to internal operations. As an employee, it’s known that passion + hard work gets rewarded with knowledge + opportunities. Our only female terrain park builder, Chloe Butel, certainly caught on to that feeling + was able to mold her Sierra-at-Tahoe experience into one she could only dream of. After dabbling with snowboard instruction + migrating to work in grooming, it wasn’t until she pried her trainer, “So when do I get to start learning how to shape jumps?” that she was given the opportunity to work on Sierra’s Playgrounds crew. Just as Sierra paved the way for terrain park progression, Chloe is at the helm for progression among female park builders. Butel, fearless, said, “I wouldn't say I had time to be very intimidated because from my first day in a cat I have been so laser-focused on my progression and working as hard as I can to learn and become a valuable operator.” It helps too, she noted, that Sierra -- specifically her supervisors Tyson Terpening and Garret Froelich -- foster a supportive + respectful learning environment. Many operators along with her supervisors gave Butel hours of their time to satisfy her curiosity. Her passion for riding, parks, Sierra, and progression resulted in forfeiting hours of her own free time, also, to learn the trade. Her dedication eventually led to an unexpected opportunity. About mid-way through the season, Butel was preparing for her graveyard shift when she got a call from Terpening. The Upper Main build would be her project to design, build + most importantly, test.
Keeping Rice’s philosophies in mind, Butel developed Upper Main for the masses looking to progress. She designed a “flow park,” which means there are smaller features, berms, contours + options on how to move through the park. Essentially flow parks are built for people of all abilities to enjoy, as opposed to big jump lines like those built in Sierra’s larger parks, like The Alley. Guided by both Froelich and Terpening, Butel got to Sierra for her shift, got in her cat, and looked down the run like she would a blank canvas. The first step is visualization, and then the snow pushing + shaping begins. “When I started putting things up I knew I wanted every feature to have at least two features from it, so the rider had all the options to choose from with their own creative line,” said Butel. One of the most rewarding feelings for her is both riding her product + watching others drop into Upper Main. “I love watching everyone put their own spin on things in there.”
Butel is not only in it for the progression of the sport but the progression of women in the industry. Her position as a park builder + snowcat operator is largely performed by males, but she is hoping to inspire more passionate females to join the ranks. On working with a male-dominated crew, she said “it takes mental strength, but that's something I think women have a lot of.” I couldn’t agree with her more. At Sierra especially, it takes a lot of collaboration to make the resort what it is, so fresh ideas, new perspectives + diverse contributors are a necessity. Women have the mental and physical strength to perform any job they’re passionate about, and Butel is here to prove that. She attests, “Passion is everything with this job, and if you have that you'll be able to find success regardless of your gender.”
Butel sums it up best: “This whole industry runs on progression … that adrenaline you get when you finally link your S turns or hit your first street style rail. It's an indescribable feeling; that’s what terrain parks run on.” People like Chloe Butel + John Rice are the reason why Sierra churns out some serious talent. Rice remarks, “As it turns out, three Olympic gold medalists cut their teeth here and learned their tricks because they had a playground that was made for them to progress.” Sierra invests in the progression of everyone who hits the slopes with a good attitude + loads of passion. Butel mentions, “That kind of investment into my progression from some really talented operators made me feel like Sierra is an incredible place for learning. I was given opportunities that are hard to come by … which is what I think helped me see my own potential the most.”
Chloe’s impact on these slopes + in the industry is hard to measure now, but she’s already making waves. Never Summer Industries, a snowboard company out of Denver, recognized her hard work + talent and rewarded Butel with a brand new board. Keep progressing, Chloe! With Sierra at your back, everything is possible.