Despite strong opposition from conservationists, ski industry officials hope to build a system of ski lifts connecting major resorts in the mountains east of Salt Lake City by 1990.

Gordon Strachan, an attorney for the Utah Ski Association, said Tuesday it is realistic to expect construction on the lifts by then - despite having to wait for Salt Lake County to adopt a canyon master plan and the need for federal approval to use the land.The new lifts would help the state compete with Colorado for skiing tourists and would create an attraction similar to connected resorts in parts of Europe, officials said.

Supporters of the plan gained an important ally Tuesday when Gov. Norm Bangerter announced his endorsement. Bangerter said the ski lifts would boost the state's economy while costing taxpayers nothing.

But supporters still face tough opposition from conservationists, led by the Citizen's Committee to Save Our Canyons.

Both sides are gearing for public hearings Wednesday at Olympus Junior High, 2217 E. 48th South, and Monday in the County Commission chambers, 2001 S. State. The hearings are scheduled from 7-10 p.m.

The hearings are only one step in the county's year-long effort to prepare a master plan. County commissioners are not likely to adopt a plan until next year.

But leaders of several ski resorts are gearing to build the interconnect as soon as they receive approval. They said Tuesday they are willing to join together to build the three lifts needed to connect Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

Once the lifts are in place, skiers will be able to buy a pass at one resort and ski through several.

The interconnect would link Alta, Brighton, Park City, Snowbird and Solitude resorts and could be built in one summer. The paths between the resorts would follow old mining roads and cause little damage to the environment, Strachan said.

"This would allow us to compete aggressively with our chief opponent, which happens to be Colorado," he said.

Bangerter decided to endorse the project after reading a study prepared by a task force he appointed.

He said environmentalists have valid concerns, but the problems can be overcome. "A proper interconnect can be done with concern for safe passage for the public and protection of the environment," Bangerter said.

Lt. Gov. Val Oveson said he once skied through the area where the lifts would be built.

"This would be the crown jewel we would need," he said, referring to the state's efforts to attract skiers.

But Alexis Kelner, co-founder of Save Our Canyons, said the interconnect would hurt Salt Lake City's lodging industry by attracting more people to Park City. Skiers would be able to stay in Park City while they ski all the resorts.