Mountain monkeys here in Aspen? |

Mountain monkeys here in Aspen?

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” None of his various careers ” ski coach, restaurant owner, competitive free skier, TV talk show host, auctioneer, furniture mover, political campaign manager, waiter ” taught Vince Lahey about snow monkeys. So the multifaceted Aspenite had to conjure them from his imagination.

In 1997 ” while he was working as a waiter and volunteering as a ski coach, and also messing around with writing rhyming poetry ” Lahey wrote “The Furry Mountain Monkeys of Aspen Colorado.” The children’s tale, which wraps together Aspen history, modern ski culture, an adventure, and an environmental message, stars the furry mountain monkeys ” green-eyed guys who live in hot springs under Aspen Mountain. It is an improbable existence that Lahey created; as the story’s narrator notes, “Monkeys like jungles as hot as July…/ So how could it be that monkeys exist, in a place where blizzards for weeks can persist?”

The year after Lahey wrote “The Furry Mountain Monkeys,” Lahey was watching the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. In between races, a report came on about Japanese Macaques ” also known as snow monkeys ” who live in mountain hot springs.

“So it was true. They not only live in mountains, but right next to a ski area, in Nagano,” said the 39-year-old Lahey, whose latest occupation is as a certified eco-broker, a real estate broker specializing in green properties. (The job has led to two side positions: as host of the local TV show “Going, Going, Green,” and as a magazine journalist, writing environment-related stories.) “It was just ridiculous. You can’t make up something like that ” and yet I did. Truthfully, I believe I created those snow monkeys in Japan.”

More difficult to create was a book. Lahey searched hard for an illustrator. He sent word to the Rhode Island School of Design, asking for students to send him sample snow monkey graphics. He hired a local artist who partied away the payment without doing the illustrations. Over the years, he would become alternately inspired and disappointed in his search. The stakes were raised after Lahey’s daughter, Ella, was born two years ago, and he promised her that by the time she could read, he would be able to hand her a copy of “The Furry Mountain Monkeys.”

Last March, Lahey met Katie Viola, an illustrator who lives in Aspen. Viola was talented, local and apparently as committed to the project as Lahey himself. “Here she was, this local artist doing amazing work for a local magazine, local restaurants,” said Lahey. “She loved the story; her son loved monkeys. She went to Thailand, and spent a good portion of her time there sketching monkeys. She felt it was a good time, to see some monkeys. She also went to New York City, where she saw Japanese macaques.”

“The Furry Mountain Monkeys of Aspen Colorado” was finally published earlier this winter; the cover features the Silver Queen Gondola, the Elks Building, and a green-eyed monkey holding a snowball. Lahey has two book-signing events set for Saturday, Feb. 23: at the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center in Snowmass Village, from 2:30-4:30 p.m., and at Explore Booksellers in Aspen, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Lahey sees his story ” about a boy lost on Aspen Mountain for several weeks ” as a metaphor for the survival of all the people who have lived here. “Aspen is a tale of survival ” for the Indians, the miners, and for us. It’s finding our talent and cultivating it, finding the place where we fit,” he said.

Having the book completed is also a tale of survival. “I’d forget about the importance of it,” said Lahey. “When I was coaching skiing, I’d tell the kids the story on the gondola, and they’d love it. The next time I’d see them, they’d ask, ‘Did you publish your book yet?'”

Lahey knows his next book had better not take a decade to finish. Last month, his son, Holden, was born. Lahey has made his the same promise as he made to Ella ” to have a book waiting for him by the time he can read.

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