Stranded in Santiago were U.S. Alpine Coach Bob Beattie, who arrived in Chile after the slides, and skiers from Germany, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Argentina and Chile—plus a brace of F.I.S. officials. Panagra Airlines' "Portillo Ski Carnival" promotion was still bringing in planeloads of fresh tourists from North America. The first load of collegians had arrived on Thursday, August 12.
They had paid $432.80 air fare, and the program promised a wild, twisting, Watusiing time. At Santiago's genteel old Crillon Hotel skiers and F.I.S. officials milled around in varying moods of despair. The Germans, disciplined by day, wild by night, found a downtown gymnasium and began working out tensions with volleyball. The French took to marching up and down the street in ragged pairs to keep their legs in shape. And Beattie—as nervous as any coach separated from his team—took to running in the park in Levi's, sweat socks and sneakers, paced by howling bands of little Chileans.
If Chile was having this much trouble with a preworld championship meet in dress rehearsal, what of prospects for the real thing next year? Big man in town, Stanislaw Ziobrzynski, chief F.I.S. technical delegate, insisted that the 1966 show would go on—with certain reservations. "The Chilean government must fix that railroad so that this does not happen again," he said. "We realize that this is a natural catastrophe, a disaster. We will take that into consideration. We have had such catastrophes in Europe. But if the railroad is fixed," he said, "the F.I.S. likely will go on as scheduled."
But while delegate Ziobrzynski's word was good in Santiago, there were rumbles from other European delegates, aware of the country's recent earthquakes as well as the avalanche, that they were not in a mood to gamble on Chile's apparent predilection for natural disaster. Clearly, when the current bad days in Chile are over, there will be world arguments about the coming race. "I have been to Portillo. Never more again. I would pay not to come," growled France's Serge Lang, president of the International Ski Writers Association.
Bob Beattie, on the other hand, lined up North and South America: "There are a few countries in Europe who think they own the sport. Maybe the Chileans are not the best organized country in the ski world. But the simple fact is they are going to stage the world ski championships here next year. They have just had a national disaster, and here are some people carping about not being able to get to Portillo. I'm not sure any nation could do better under the circumstances."
By Sunday, Portillo was full of skiers who wanted to get down—Santiago was full of skiers who wanted to get up. The preworld championships were in a state of limbo. If the storm lifts next week, a play-it-by-ear, shortened version of the races might be held. If the storm continues most nations will send their skiers home, and the coaches will stay on to inspect Portillo when they can get to it.
Santiago, despite disaster all around, was digging out of its gloom. The mood was not one of a holiday, but more like a city about to be enveloped by war. Nightclubs were crowded and free-spending tourists—their skis back at their hotels—were out on the town. "We want to point out that it is safe to drink water from the tap," a sign says in each bathroom at the earthquake-damaged Hotel Carrera, but there was no indication anyone was taking that chance when other potables were available.
And Bob Beattie, who does not speak Spanish, was giving demonstrations in making himself understood in a foreign country. After a big meal of steak in a Santiago restaurant, one of the party ordered apple pie—and got a peeled apple on a plate. Beattie leaned back and signaled a waiter. "Peach melba," he whispered, smiling. The waiter consulted some companions and came back with the dessert. It was, of all things, peach melba.
Whether or not there are races in Portillo this week or even next year it was Reinaldo Solari who had, for the moment, the last say in Saturday's fiery F.I.S. meeting.
"We have been criticized," he said, "for having only one helicopter in the whole country of Chile. This is not so. All of our helicopters are busy saving lives, not lifting skiers to Portillo. The Europeans are saying that we do not know how to run a ski race and that we do not know what we are doing here. We have starving copper miners marooned in the north of the country. We must get food to them. Damages are high in the coastal areas. Children are out of school and hungry in some areas. We regard human lives as more important at this moment than skiing. Skiing can wait for a while."