Idaho January 11, 2018
The Story Behind How Idaho Invented The Chairlift Sounds Too Bizarre To Be True
Idaho is pretty underappreciated when it comes to useful inventions that are widely used around the world. We invented the television, for goodness sake. Still, the only thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of Idaho are potatoes. There are even some Idahoans who are unaware of all the amazing things our state has done. Did you know the chairlift was invented here? There’s no telling where snow sports like skiing and snowboarding would be today without this invention. Not many people are aware of this little tidbit, but the story is truly a weird one.
Ski and snowboard culture are huge here in Idaho, and there's a good reason for that. Idaho basically invented skiing as we know it in America.
Not only was the chairlift invented in Idaho, but it made it's first appearance at the country's very first ski resort in Sun Valley. Sun Valley still maintains a reputation as one of the top ski towns in the country. This place lives and breathes ski culture. It only makes sense that the world's very first chairlift was unveiled here.
The Sun Valley Ski Resort was preparing to open in 1936 as America's very first ski resort. The founder was the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, William Averell Harriman.
For the country's first ski resort, Harriman wanted to create a new way of bringing skiers to the top of the mountain. Recreational skiing had existed for some time before, but the ways of transporting skiers up the slope still had not been perfected. They often used tow ropes or bars, which would wear the skier out before they even had a chance to ski down the mountain.
Harriman consulted with his team of railway engineers to come up with a new way of lifting people up the mountain. It was James Curran, a young bridge designer, who made the connection to transport people like bananas. Yes,
Curran had previously invented a way of moving bales of bananas from loading docks onto boats without bruising them. This wire-based system used hooks to pick up the bunches of bananas on a conveyor belt before being loaded onto the ships. Curran wanted to try the same thing with skiers by replacing the hooks with chairs.
The team of engineers quickly got to work on a design inspired by the banana system.
There were all sorts of things they had to take in account. At one point in the process, they attached a chair to the side of a truck and had a test subject in roller blades try to hop on. This would help them establish what speed was best for picking people up. They didn't want it to be too fast or too slow. The original chairlift design ended up being capable of picking up 400 skiers per hour.
The world's very first chairlift was installed at Sun Valley Resort in 1936. The original design was a single chair, although a double chairlift was opened in 1946.
The chairlift didn't take off with all ski resorts immediately. The previous method of using tow ropes was cheaper for resorts. However, the chairlift had become the ski industry standard by the 1960s.
It's crazy to think the process of inventing the chairlift was so involved. It's crazier to think it all happened right here in Idaho!
It makes sense that Idaho is considered a paradise for snow enthusiasts. Thanks to the Sun Valley Resort, it's easy as ever for skiers to be transported up the slopes so they can pack in as many runs as they can during the day.
Did you know the chairlift was invented in Idaho? What other Idaho inventions do you know of? It seems like there is always something new to learn about our wonderful state. Check out these
8 Shocking Things You Had No Idea Happened In Idaho.