While they spoke, a couple of dozen critics took part in a Save Our Canyons protest on the sidewalk outside the chamber offices, expressing doubts that SkiLink would ever be anything more than a corporate move to make money at the expense of the environment.
"We can create a unique ski experience unmatched anywhere in North America," said Beattie, recounting how the Salt Lake Chamber has supported the state's ski industry since its birth. "But we have to do it absolutely right."
To win the chamber's support, SkiLink proponents must show the proposed gondola has to "be a net positive for the environment," Beattie said, capable of standing up to rigorous local government reviews complete with public hearings of impacts on land use, water quality, wildlife and other environmental issues.
But as Utah explores another possible Olympic bid in keeping with a goal of becoming the country's winter sports capital now is the time, he added, to consider the options and look at the costs and how to proceed.
Mike Goar, managing director of Canyons Resort, said modern lift-installation practices using helicopters would keep SkiLink's ground disturbance to a minimum. Only a few trees would be lost.
"We can build these connections with no impact on water quality," he pledged, arguing the economic benefits could be significant. In its first year, Goar said, SkiLink would generate $50 million for Utah's economy, $3 million for local and state tax coffers and create 500 jobs.
He defended federal legislation, which has made it through a House committee, that would require the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres along a contemplated SkiLink route to Talisker, the Canadian company that owns Canyons. Removing the Forest Service from the process, Goar said, would put the project into a forum that gives local governments final say on the project.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said he backs both projects to ensure an ever-increasing number of Utahns can continue to access skiing in the canyons, adding that since a third of Sandy's drinking water comes from Little Cottonwood, the city is eager to protect that resource. "We're very interested in environmental impacts."
Former Sen. Jake Garn also joined the chorus of support, predicting SkiLink would be a "great addition to our community. … How great it would be to ski both sides [of the Wasatch] and not have to drive around the mountains."
Views of SkiLink were much different down on the publicly owned sidewalk, where Save Our Canyons' protesters were forced to move after initially congregating on the private property that includes the office building housing the chamber.
"This is inevitably what will happen" to public input if the legislation moves the Forest Service's property into Talisker's private ownership, predicted Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher.
"A corrupt political process got [SkiLink] this far," he said, contending the coalition's long list of corporate patrons and "henchmen in the Legislature" will produce "a corporate playground for those wealthy enough" to be able to afford skiing.
Fisher said a 2010 Envision Utah study showed 94 percent of Salt Lake County residents oppose ski resort expansion in the canyons. "The other 6 percent," he added, referring to coalition members, "are inside now trying to have their way with our mountains."
SkiLink coalition members
Jake Garn, former U.S. senator and ex-Salt Lake City mayor (co-chairman)
Tom Dolan, Sandy mayor (co-chairman)
Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber president and CEO (co-chairman)
Natalie Gochnour, executive vice president, Salt Lake Chamber
Bill Malone, president and CEO, Park City Chamber/Bureau
Stan Parrish, president and CEO, Greater Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce
Mike Goar, managing director, Canyons Resort
Dave DeSeelhorst, general manager, Solitude Mountain Resort
Roger Boyer, chairman and founder, The Boyer Co.
Julian Castelli, CEO of VacationRoost
Jim Gaddis, president and CEO, Gaddis Investments
Robert Garff, chairman, Ken Garff Automotive Group
John Gust, founder, Arbor Commercial
George B. Hofmann, executive vice president, Zions First National Bank
Chris Redgrave, senior vice president, Zions Bank
Ellis Ivory, founder, Ivory Homes
Wayne Niederhauser, Republican state senator
Tom Richardson, president, Kimball Junction Association
Holly Robb, governmental affairs director, Maverik
Gordon Strachan, attorney, Strachan, Strachan & Simon