Sun Valley Skiing: First US Chair Lift

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First US Chair Lift

The first known ski chairlift was installed on Proctor Mountain, approximately two miles east of Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho in 1936. Read More

  • The first known ski chairlift was installed on Proctor Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho in 1936.
  • A banana conveyor belt with hooks for the bananas was the basis for the design of the chairlift.
  • The original lift could transport 400 skiers per hour.
  • The original location of the chairlift is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Before the Chairlift

Recreational skiing existed before the invention of the chairlift. Many ski areas in Europe used trains, cable cars and even gondolas to get skiers up the mountains so they could ski down. Gentle slopes often saw the use of tow ropes, J bars, T bars or a tow bar to transport the avid skier. However, using the last category of up hill transport was more apt to wear the skier out before they had even taken a single run.

Union Pacific Railroad

Sun Valley was opened by the Union Pacific Railroad as a winter vacation destination. To facilitate their guests’ ride up the mountain, a team of Union Pacific engineers were put to work in Omaha, Nebraska, to figure out a new way to transport skiers.

The Idea

Jim Curran thought that skiers could be transported above the ground, much like bunches of bananas that are moved along by hooks on a conveyor belts when they were being loaded onto a cargo ship. Many thought that this idea was dangerous, however, Charlie Proctor, a famous skier of that time, recommended the idea.

The Chairlift

The banana lift was used as starting point. As the design progressed, engineers on roller skates used a chair lift attached to the side of a moving truck to determine the best speed to load and unload skiers. The original lift could transport 400 skiers per hour.

Sun Valley

Sun Valley opened as a ski resort with the world's first chairlifts in December 1936, a banner year for skiing. In that same year, SKI magazine started publication, the first ski instructor was certified in the United States, and the Third Olympic Winter Games hosted the first ever alpine skiing events.

Modern Chairlifts

Chairlifts have evolved from a single chair lift transporting one person at a time to chairlifts, which can transport six people at a time. The lifts have led the way to their own terminology. A two-person lift is a "double", a three person lift a "triple", four person lifts are "quads" and a six person lift is a "six pack".

Now skiers travel quickly to the top of the mountain and many make a game of how many "runs" they can get in each day.

Interesting facts

The original ski lift was donated to U.S National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame is located in Ishpeming, MI when it was retired from operation.

You can still see Proctor Mountain, although it is no longer used for skiing and no longer has a functioning chairlift.