Skiers stayed overnight to be first to try out Mount Hutt's new eight-seat chairlift

Record crowds have taken to the slopes at Mount Hutt as the first of the major southern ski fields opened for winter.

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The new Norwest Express could be game changer for Mount Hutt, as the South Island’s first major ski field opens for winter. Source: 1 NEWS

Keen skiers queued to try out the eight-seater chairlift as it swung into action for the first time — and they weren’t disappointed.

Skier Brendan Lindsay said he slept on the new chairlift.

"It didn’t get too bad. I think it only got down to about -2," he said.

Skier Ben Yorston also pulled an all-nighter to be one of the first to test out the new chairlift, the Nor'West Express.

"You can't sleep, it's like so cold, so I brought some portable speakers, a few beers, who cares — just chilled out on the chairlift and just chat," he said.

Ski area manager James McKenzie said with eight seats traveling at five metres a second, the new chairlift is a game-changer when it comes to moving up the mountain.

"This lift will move about 3000 people an hour. Our old lift was around about 1200," he said.

Thanks to its heavy chairs, it’s also safer and easier to disembark, according to NZ Ski CEO Paul Anderson.

"They're very wind resistant so we are going to be able to run in far windier conditions than normal," he said.

A record crowd made the trip to the top for their first slide down the slopes, but it almost didn't happen after recent bad weather battered the region, causing extensive damage to the access road.

Contractors had to work around the clock to have it ready in time.

The ski village below also saw a much-needed boost in visitor numbers.

"If you own a business in Methven, it's absolutely fantastic. We had the floods in Canterbury at the end of May there so there's a few people struggling with the farming, but this is one big positive for the whole area," Ski Time Methven’s Pete Wood said.

The season is expected to run until mid-October.