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For the week of  September 19 - 25, 2001


Ski shrine elects chairlift inventor

James Curran to be inducted

The engineer who revolutionized the sport of skiing with his invention of the chairlift will be inducted posthumously into the National Ski Hall of Fame Saturday, Sept. 29.

Omaha native James Michael Curran, who died in 1968 at age 65, heads up the list of six prominent ski industry figures who will be honored during gala events at the Ishpeming, Mich. ski shrine Saturday.

Curran was working as a bridge engineer for Union Pacific Railroad in 1936 when he adapted his own design for a banana conveyor system and sketched out what became the first chairlift system.

It was installed at Union Pacificís Sun Valley ski resort when it first opened in 1936.

The Ski Hall of Fameís press release about the new inductees said, "Curran revolutionized the sport of skiing by designing an easy, moderately inexpensive method for skiers to ascend the mountain.

"The chairlift went on to become the workhorse of the ski industry, enjoyed by millions of skiers for the next 60 years. His contribution to the sport and industry of skiing has been enormous, although mostly unrecognized."

Sixth of seven children of Irish immigrants, Curran didnít go to college, but he attended night school while working in Omaha as an ironworker/draftsman, and eventually passed the exam to become a professional engineer.

Among Curranís first jobs was designing an aerial conveyor system for hauling and loading a continuous flow of bananas from loading docks of United Fruit to the fruit-boat holds in Honduras.

While working as a bridge engineer for Union Pacific, Curran and colleagues received an order from UPRR president Averell Harriman. In the mid-1930s Harriman was creating Americaís first destination ski resort near Ketchum.

Harriman wanted UPRR engineers "to develop a method of lifting skiers 2,000 feet above the valley floor to the mountains east of Trail Creek."

Curran remembered the banana conveyor system he had designed in Honduras and suggested to senior engineers a way to refit the banana hooks with chairs. Although initially rejected, his idea of a continuously-moving, mono-cable fixed-grip chairlift took hold.

Other 2001 inductees are Dodie Post Gann, also with Sun Valley connections, plus Charles Gibson, K2 Ski Company founder Bill Kirschner, Austrian ski racer and current Jackson Hole director of skiing Josef "Pepi" Stiegler and ski writer Michael Strauss.

Dodie Post Gann was raised in Reno and became the first woman elected to the Univ. of Nevada-Reno Hall of Fame. The top junior alpine ski racer in the Far West by 1940, Dodie Post trained in Sun Valley in 1941-42 and won many races.

She was team captain of the 1948 Olympic team, although she broke her ankle during training at St. Moritz, Switz. In 1956, she became team manager of the Womenís Olympic Team that competed at Cortina, Italy.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.