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'His stories are legends': Friend remembers life, impact of Utah skier killed in backcountry

Posted at 5:49 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 21:42:26-05

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Merrill Bitter was an icon in the rock climbing community.

The 68-year-old from Cottonwood Heights went skiing Wednesday and was supposed to return at 3 p.m.

According to officials, the Alta Ski Area received a call at 9 p.m Wednesday from someone who knew Bitter, concerned he hadn't returned. Bitter was then found dead Thursday morning in the Grizzly Gulch skiing area, adjacent to Alta Ski Area.

Lance Merrill called Bitter his friend for the past 50 years. Merrill respected Bitter so much that he included him in his book, "We Should Have Died Young."

The book includes stories of people who Merrill thought were the best of the best at their craft.

"Merrill was more of a technical climber, where he would take a specific route on a section of a route and climb the part that everyone thought could not be climbed," Lance Merrill said.

Merrill says he talked to Bitter just two weeks ago.

"I called him at about 11 in the morning and said, 'Hey, Merrill, let's go to lunch,' and he was like 'I’ve got plans today, Lance, let’s get together sometime this month,'" said Merrill, which is why it hit him hard when found out Bitter had died.

"I sat right here and cried this morning, there are some people you meet in your life that have a huge heart and they get along with everybody, and that’s how Merrill was."

Merrill says Bitter took a strong interest in rock climbing in the 1970s and he even climbed with him from time to time.

"He wasn’t super human, but he just, because he was in such incredible condition and he had so much stamina, he just had this fortitude that allowed him to do things that a lot of people wouldn’t even consider," said Merrill.

That's why he feels that Bitter left such an impact on the rock climbing community.

"His stories are legends and I’m sure they will grow as time goes on," said Merrill.

FOX 13 also spoke with two rock climbing companies, one in Salt Lake City and another in Sandy who said there is immense shock and sadness with the passing of Bitter.