Merrill was one of those rare types who shunned fame, but his climbing could have put him up there with the ‘greatest’. Peter Lev
LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah (ABC4) – We’re learning more about a skier found deceased in Utah’s backcountry Thursday.
68-year-old Merrill Bitter, of Cottonwood Heights, was discovered by search and rescue crews near Alta Ski Area Thursday morning around 9 a.m.
Rescue crews discovered him in the Wolverine Bull area of Grizzly Gulch. The area is considered a backcountry area with an intermediate-level run amid several expert runs.
Family members say Bitter spent his entire life devoted to the outdoors. As an expert rock climber, he also loved backcountry skiing.
His cause of death is still unclear.
But what is clear — is that Merrill Bitter was an icon in the outdoor community and family members tell ABC4 they are shocked by his passing.
When family didn’t hear back from him by afternoon, search and rescue teams mobilized.
It wasn’t until this morning that his body was recovered.
Usually — when talking backcountry danger, it’s avalanches. But avalanche danger is low in Utah right now. What can be dangerous are, though, are these slopes that face the sun all day.
“And in the morning or late in the day, that is a very hard slick surface. So it’s super easy that we lose our footing under our skis, our board, our snowshoes. and once you start sliding on a steep slope, you accelerate extremely rapidly,” Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center told ABC4.
Family members of Merrill Bitter describe him as just the healthiest outdoorsman, cautious and experienced.
Knowing he died in these mountains, they say is bittersweet.
‘His stories are legends’: Friend remembers life, impact of Utah skier killed in backcountry
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.