Fascinating ski history lesson from Midwest Skiers about the development of the world’s first chairlift and its design inspiration originating in tropical banana plantations, world’s away from where they first appeared on the snowy slopes of Sun Valley Ski Resort in Idaho. The more you know…
In 1936 and 1937, the world witnessed the creation of the first three ski chairlifts for a resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. These chairlifts were introduced when the resort was under the ownership of the Union Pacific Railroad. The initial chairlift, which has since been taken down, was situated on Proctor Mountain, located two miles east of the more renowned Bald Mountain. Since 1939, Bald Mountain has been the primary ski mountain at Sun Valley resort.
Thankfully, one of the chairlifts still remains on Ruud Mountain, named in honor of Thomas Ruud, a renowned Norwegian ski racer. This particular chairlift, along with its ski jump and original single chairs, has been preserved just as it was during World War II. The credit for developing this innovative chairlift goes to James Curran, who was part of Union Pacific’s engineering department in Omaha during the summer of 1936. Before joining Union Pacific, Curran worked for Paxton and Vierling Steel in Omaha, where they engineered conveyor systems for loading cargo ships in tropical regions (including banana conveyor systems).
Curran’s creative mind reimagined the banana hooks and transformed them into comfortable chairs, creating a more efficient and comfortable means of transporting skiers compared to the traditional up-ski toboggans (cable cars) and J-bars, which were the most common methods of transport for skiers at that time, apart from mountain climbing. Remarkably, the basic design he conceived back then is still used for chairlifts today.
The patent for the original ski lift was officially issued to Mr. Curran, along with Gordon H. Bannerman and Glen H. Trout, who was the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, in March 1939. Thanks to their groundbreaking work, ski chairlifts revolutionized the skiing experience and became an integral part of ski resorts worldwide.