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Aspen/Snowmass, Colo. Dec 13, 2004 — This winter, Aspen Skiing Company and Aspen Expeditions launch Aspen/Snowmass Off-Piste Tours, a guided backcountry program at Aspen Highlands.

The one-day program offers expert skiers and snowboarders guided access to Highlands Ridge located just outside the ski area boundary. Guided backcountry tours will be led by Aspen Expeditions, Aspen's year-round mountain guide service, whose professional ski guides are AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) trained and certified. Tours begin as soon as the snowpack and weather conditions, most likely by the 2004 Holiday season.

"With the famous Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak framed as the scenic centerfold, this traverse offers unparalleled panoramic views, and over 4,000 vertical feet of untracked, virgin skiable terrain to the valley below, says Dick Jackson, internationally certified IFMGA mountain guide and owner/director of Aspen Expeditions.

The Highlands Ridge offers access to miles of a ridgeline traverse above elevation 12,000 ft. The program is not for the faint of heart, as the terrain is dramatic and moderately technical, often requiring the guide to short-rope guests on the rocky outcrops and corniced sections. The topography includes Five Fingers Bowl and the K-Shoots, any one of its "digits guarantees to be the run of a lifetime.

"Aspen has been called the Heart of the Rockies and with that said, then skiing off Highlands Ridge is the Soul of the Rockies, says Jackson.

Participants must be expert skiers and/or snowboarders in excellent physical condition. Individuals will receive training throughout the day in avalanche rescue and safe travel techniques within avalanche terrain. Avalanche rescue equipment is supplied, as is transportation back to the ski area as the tours end at Conundrum Creek, about 5 miles from Aspen Highlands ski area.

Group sizes are limited to a 4:1 guest/guide ratio. Reservations should be made at least one day in advance. Weather and snow pack stability will determine the scheduling of all backcountry tours, although normally tours are guided on a daily basis, seven days a week from 8:30AM to 3PM. Rates will depend on the group size, starting at $175/each for a group of four. This price includes a one-ride lift ticket up Aspen Highlands. Rental ski mountaineering equipment is available.

Aspen/Snowmass Off-Piste Tours are an excellent addition to the existing inbounds hike-to areas of Aspen Highlands including Highland Bowl, where advanced skiers/snowboarders enjoy double black diamond terrain and fresh powder virtually all season long.

Reservations for Aspen/Snowmass Off-Piste Tours can be made by calling Aspen Expeditions at 970-925-7625, www.aspenexpeditions.com or stop by their store at 426 South Spring St. in Aspen, Colorado, just one block east of the Silver Queen Gondola.

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