Idaho is home to many firsts — including some that are now seen all over the world. The very first chairlift went up in the Wood River Valley, giving life to the ski slopes of the Sun Valley Resort.
Before the chairlift came to life, resorts in Europe used trains, cable cars, and even tow ropes to get skiers up the mountain.
But first, bananas
The idea started with Jim Curran, an engineer for the Union Pacificrailroad who in the early 1930’s figured out how to load bananas bunches onto rail cars without bruising them. He attached them to hooks and onto an overhead cable system that ran from the loading dock and into cargo ships.
Eventually, the hooks were replaced with chairs where people could sit while being transported up the mountain. They were suspended from a single cable running above the chair.
Curran worked with a team in a Nebraska locomotive repair facility, building out prototypes and testing ideas. The invention was patented in 1939.
New resort, new invention
Then in December of 1936, Union Pacific opened Sun Valley Resort. Vacationers from around the world flocked to the small Idaho resort to test out the new invention installed on Proctor Mountain.
The original chair could only carry one passenger at a time. By 1946, the Sun Valley Resort opened the double chairlift.
While the chairlift wasn’t immediately popular because of its cost to install, by 1960, resorts across the world adopted the most effective way to get skiers up the mountain.
Now, ski resorts can fit as many as six passengers on a chair.
And while the Proctor Lift is no longer in use, visitors can still go see where the concept of “getting the most runs in in a day” all started.