Union Pacific Invented the Ski Chairlift?
You expect innovation from a name like Union Pacific, although with the company’s rich history, you may be surprised how far its achievements in technology and engineering reach. Take for example the ski chairlift, spotlighted in the Union Pacific Museum’s newest exhibit, “Discovered!: Winter Sports Under a Summer Sun: The Railroad and Sun Valley.”
In 1936, in hopes of boosting passenger travel on its rails, Union Pacific built a ski resort in Ketchum, Idaho, called Sun Valley Resort. In those days, skiers relied on tricky rope-tows to access the top of a mountain. During the resort’s planning stages, Union Pacific’s Chairman of the Board, Averell Harriman, thought the destination could lure more visitors by offering a safer, faster way to get skiers up the slopes. He asked the railroad’s mechanical engineers to develop something new.
Union Pacific’s James Curran, an Omaha-based Engineering Department employee, had previously worked for Paxton Vierling Steel in the Gulf ports. There he watched pulley systems hook bunches of bananas and haul them to the dock. Curran figured hauling bananas and hauling skiers was not all that different – limit bruising and try not to drop them.