Innerviews: Veteran ski bum loves life on the slopes
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's a rugged Renaissance man -- skier extraordinaire, carpenter, cane-maker, artist, photographer and actor, for starters.
A Pennsylvania native, son of a professional hockey executive, 61-year-old David Faunce grew up on skates and skis and migrated to West Virginia as a Davis & Elkins College student lured by the promise of a new ski area opening at Canaan Valley State Park.
They hired him as one of their first instructors. He was the first teacher south of the Mason-Dixon Line certified by the Professional Ski Instructors Association.
Now, at Timberline Resort, he's the on-snow supervisor for the Timberline Ski School. He loves introducing newcomers to the sport that fills him with joy.
The laid-back life enriched by multifaceted talents is tinged with heartbreak. In 2005, he lost his 32-year-old son to the same demon he battles daily.
"I was born in Johnstown, Pa. My father was in professional hockey with the Pittsburgh Hornets in the '50s and was instrumental in the formation of the Ice Capades, so I grew up in that environment.
"When I was 2, I started skating with the hockey players. When I was about 4, we moved back to Johnstown, and he became general manager of the Johnstown Jets in the Eastern Hockey League.
"When I was in the eighth grade, he took a job with the Rochester Americans team in Rochester, N.Y. That's where I was introduced to skiing. I grew up with old Army surplus skis. I fell in love with it. Hockey became secondary.
"I was on semi-private hockey teams and had a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology. I didn't want to go to college where my parents lived. I heard about Davis & Elkins College and a new ski resort that was opening, Canaan Valley Resort.
"The skiing didn't start until my sophomore year in 1972. I went to Davis & Elkins until 1974 and got a degree in speech and drama.
"Growing up, I was a stutterer. I wanted to be a speech pathologist to help myself and other people. When I'm tired, I still have episodes, but I've pretty much conquered it. Between seventh and eighth grades, I went to Penn State for a summer speech clinic and that helped a lot.
"When I first got here, when you looked over the valley at night, there were maybe one or two light bulbs burning. Just a few farm homes and the state park, and that was about it.
"The original ski resorts that Bob Barton started with the Washington Ski Club were long gone. The state acquired all the land to open the state park.
"I started a ski club at D&E, and I came up here to work out a deal for the ski club. They asked if I wanted to be an instructor. I was one of the first instructors.
"Two years later, I ended up taking over the ski school. I was director from '73 to 1980 when I decided I wanted to go out west. So with my wife and son, we moved to Colorado, to Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. I was a ski instructor at the resort and a carpenter in the summer.
"Back then, you could afford to be a ski bum. Rent wasn't so high, and you could make a comfortable living. That's actually on my card -- David Faunce, Ski Bum, Endangered Species.
"We were out there four years. The skiing was great, but we missed our friends and family. I was tired of the ski business, so I went to the Pentagon for four years and removed asbestos for my uncle's company. I still came back up here and taught on weekends. In '87, I'd had enough of D.C., and we moved back.
"I took over the Canaan ski school until 1993 when Guest Services took over. I didn't enjoy working for a large corporation. Timberline had opened in '84 or '85, and I came over here.
"I'm on-snow supervisor for the Timberline Ski School. I handle all the on-snow activities, the lessons, making sure all the customers are out there with their instructors. I've been doing that about five years.
"When I first came back, I was a trainer for instructors. I was the first person certified by the PSIA [Professional Ski Instructors Association] south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Now I'm Level Three. I got that in '75, so I've been pretty influential in training most of the people around here. Skiing is my passion. I enjoy turning people on to my passion.
"I'm caretaker for Davis Riverfront Park, and that keeps me busy all summer. We have a picnic shelter and a lot of memorial benches that people can buy and put names on. The town bought five acres on the Blackwater River to develop into a city park.
"We live in Davis where my wife, Nora, was born and raised. Her family was one of the originals. They had the old Worden Hotel.
"I've always said it's a wonderful place to live, but it's hard to make a living. There has always been a real mystique about this valley. It just draws people, and there are certain kinds of people who stay.
"Between Christmas and New Years is one of the major times. We need to do really well then to have a successful season. This year, we had 4 feet of snow at Halloween and nothing more until mid-December. We got 4 feet from Superstorm Sandy, and it stayed for almost a month.
"All in all, I've been pretty lucky and pretty happy. We did have one major tragedy. Our son passed away in 2005 at 32. He was one of the first snowboard instructors at Canaan Valley. Alcoholism got him, liver failure. Alcoholism runs in our family. I'm a recovering alcoholic.
"I've had a couple of relapses. It's still a struggle every day. When my son died, I got really bad and went off the deep end. Three months later to the day, my 47-year-old sister passed away suddenly. She was in West Palm Beach, so I had a double whammy.
"In 1997, my dad was in Florida, and he was sick, and I wanted to help him out, so we moved there after 35 years. We were there nine years. I didn't see snow for five years. The only way I could deal with not skiing was out of sight, out of mind.
"While we were in Florida, my son died. He was our only child. It was rough. David IV. We called him 'LD' for Little David.
"My dad did better, and I stayed and ended up working at a nice country club where I was in charge of outside golf operations, pretty much the same thing I do here only I'm dealing with wannabe golf pros. I played golf every day and surfed. It kept me busy. I could never sit in an office.
"I started going to AA and some of the country club members knew what I was struggling with and took me under their wing and helped me. If I hadn't quit drinking, I would not be here today. I still have cravings every day in this ski environment.
"I'm an open book. I don't hide who I am.
"We came back in 2006. That's when I took this position. The ski school desk is where they talk to the customers and try to match up personalities with the ski instructors.
"Then I organize it. Sometimes we have 200 or 300 people out there. We get them organized in about 20 minutes, so there's still plenty of time to get out there and ski. I've already had four runs today.
"I've skied all over the world. My freshman year at D&E, before Canaan Valley opened, I went to London for six months. I was studying music, theater and art. I loved the theater. That's where I learned my carpentry skills, building sets. Finally, halfway through college, I got tired being behind the scenes and tried out for a play and started getting leads.
"I don't have any trouble with stuttering when I'm acting, or teaching. I got in the college choir, and I don't stutter when I sing. I worked at a radio station as a DJ, and I didn't stutter then either. It's only when I'm tired.
"In the summer, besides being a carpenter and taking care of riverfront park, I'm also an artist and craftsman. I make walking sticks from the striped maples we clear for the ski trails.
"I also do a lot of photography. I took a course at Rochester Institute of Technology years ago. When the digital age hit, I got back into it because I could afford it.
"I have a gallery in Davis, Upper Tucker Inspirations in a store called Grandpa's Attic. I also have my walking sticks there. I also make ski nuts. We have a bunch of ski nuts around here, so I take little peanuts and turn them into skiing and snowboarding and whitewater figures.
"A lot of my photographs are on Facebook under Fauncey Photos. I shoot Tucker County landscapes mostly. Every day there is something new to take a picture of, the same thing in a different light. It's nice seeing all the beauty here through sober eyes.
"Sometimes, it has been a struggle, but overall, it's been a worthwhile life. If I stay healthy, I will work until the day I die."Reach Sandy Wells at email@example.com or 304-348-5173.