Solitude ski area owners have released an opinion poll they say demonstrates public support for further development at the Big Cottonwood Canyon ski resort as long as development is environmentally sensitive.

Resort owners Gary L. DeSeelhorst and Hal Louchheim say the survey results indicate the vast majority of Salt Lake County residents will support their plans to develop Solitude as outlined in the resort's master plan - which calls for a new quad lift, new base facilities and up to 320 overnight lodging units.The Dan Jones & Associates survey shows that of 610 Salt Lake County heads of households interviewed between July 20-26, 53 percent were strongly or somewhat in favor when asked if facilities at Solitude should be improved.

Only 15 percent were strongly or somewhat opposed. One-third of those surveyed didn't know whether Solitude facilities should be improved or not. The survey has a 4 percent margin of error.

Those surveyed were not asked their opinions about any specific components of the Solitude master plan.

Of those surveyed, 58 percent strongly or somewhat favored additional ski facility development in the local canyons, while 30 percent were strongly or somewhat opposed.

Fifty-nine percent said further ski area development can be compatible with the environment, while 28 percent said additional growth would damage the environment.

"We found people want ski-area development, but they want responsible development compatible with the area and adequate protections are very important to them," said Jon Memmott of the Public Affairs Advisory Group, which interpreted the survey results for DeSeelhorst.

Memmott's written conclusion of the survey results says Solitude development plans "will be met by a certain amount of shrill opposition from a vocal few . . . that do not represent even a significant minority of Salt Lake County residents."

Utahns are hungry for economic development, Memmott's conclusion says, and the non-polluting jobs and local economic benefit the ski industry provides will find public support so long as any further development is "sensitive to and protective of the natural beauty of the canyons."

A whopping 88 percent of those surveyed said out-of-state skiers are important to Salt Lake County's economy - a higher percentage than identified the defense or high-tech industries as being important.

And 64 percent felt efforts to attract more skiers to the area should be increased; while 30 percent felt efforts should stay about as they are now. Only 3 percent felt less should be done to bring in more skiers.

"We went into this survey with no preconceived ideas, but the results are clear," DeSeelhorst said. "The public perceives the ski industry as No. 1, and they want it to continue to be No. 1."

DeSeelhorst and Louchheim commissioned the public opinion survey because they felt Salt Lake County planners reached only two polarized groups - anti-development environmentalists and pro-expansion ski industry representatives - when they conducted public hearings a month ago on the county's efforts to compile a master plan for future canyon development.

The two Solitude owners wanted a broader response on the canyon development issue than came out in the hearings - which focused mainly on the so-called Ski Interconnect that would link Park City with Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts.

"They may have reached a group that we didn't reach," said Calvin Schneller, county senior planner in charge of the canyon master plan project. "We still question exactly what the survey results mean, but at the least it's another perspective. The information is useful and we'll certainly consider how it ties in with what we're doing."

Conservationists opposing further ski area development in local canyons told the Deseret News they are unaware of the survey and could not comment.