The International Sport Climbing Championships return to Snowbird for two weekends of competition on the Cliff Lodge wall, starting today at 9 a.m.

The schedule starts with the North American Open, featuring 70 of the top men's and women's climbers as selected by the sport climbing committee of the American Alpine Club. Salt Lake's Merril Bitter is among the local entrants with a shot at advancing. The top 12 men and six women will return Sunday to join 15 Europeans in the World Cup qualifier. From that group, the top eight men and four women will move on to next weekend's World Cup event.The top climbers from 14 countries, including America's host-team entry of eight men and four women, are already entered in the World Cup meet.

The competition will be held on the 115-foot wall dotted with tiny footholds and handholds, scaled by only a few of the top international climbers when Snowbird hosted a similar event in June 1988. The course will be changed between this weekend and next weekend; climbers are not allowed to even watch other competitors during the meet.

The spectators, however, can quickly determine the difficult areas of the wall and observe how climbers use different strategies.

"That's where the drama comes in," notes meet director Jeff Lowe. "You can really experience it with the climbers."