'There’s a buzz up here': Skiers camp out at Mt Hutt for opening day

File Photo: NZ Herald
File Photo: NZ Herald
A record number of people have hit the slopes at Mt Hutt Ski Area on opening day.

Manager James McKenzie said more than 2200 people, with some camping out overnight to be first in, descended on the Canterbury ski field on Friday for the opening day of the season and the new Nor’west Express chairlift.

McKenzie was thrilled by the turnout, saying its previous record for an opening day was in 2009 when 2093 people hit the slopes.

"There’s a buzz up here today, everyone is stoked the season has kicked off and that the new Nor’west Express chairlift is spinning.

"We’ve got a great early season base which has set us up well for the winter ahead."

The new eight-seater lift replaces the old chairlift, and increases the capacity of the mountain from 1600 to a maximum of 3000 skiers per hour.

The first of its kind in New Zealand, the chairlift is also rated to run in higher wind conditions.

"It allows us to keep on running when the old chairs were right on the threshold for operating," said McKenzie.

"This lift really changes how people access the mountain.

"It’s now only a two-minute ride to our terrain parks and mid-mountain trails which means more laps for everyone."

The season at Mt Hutt is scheduled to run until Sunday, October 17.

While the slopes were coping well with the record numbers, the car park was struggling.

Three out of five car parks were full by noon with more skiers still turning up.

"We opened on time with plenty of happy punters on the lifts," said Paul Anderson, chief executive of NZSKI.

"Beautiful weather has brought people out in force."

On friday, parking was backed up two and a half kilometers down the mountain, with very busy shuttles running from the bottom of the mountain.

"We're parking all the way down to the saddle, with people still coming in. As we get closer to midday, we'll see more car parks open as the early birds go home."

Solo-skiers or those with spare seats were being encouraged to carpool, using the app snowriders.nz this year to ease congestion on the roads.

First tracks
In an effort to beat the crowds and be first on the lift, some snow lovers had camped out overnight.

First at the gates Ben Yorston said he was "running on adrenaline" after staying up all night. After a recent heartbreak, he was hoping to catch news cameras and eye of his ex. "Hopefully she sees," he said.

However, the biggest motivation was the new lift.

"Because it's a new chair I'm pumped, it's going to be something that will stick around."

The previous opening day record has stood since 2009 with 2093 skiers.

Forecasts predict a fine day for Saturday, the pick of the weekend with conditions deteriorating on Sunday.

Several other enthusiastic skiers also spent a night or two on the mountain to be the first to score a ride on the new chairlift.

Brendan Lindsay, of Christchurch, secured bragging rights after camping out at the ski area for two nights.

The Ritchie family also spent a night ensuring they were first in queue.

East coast ski season
Just two weeks after Methven was cut off by severe floods in Canterbury access to the mountain has been restored, and the wet weather left plenty of powder on top of the mountain.

"At the top of the mountain we're measuring snow in excess of three metres," said McKenzie.

"There are some seasons when we don't see three metres all year."

Elsewhere club fields in Hanmer Springs also benefitted from the dumping of snow.

Amuri Ski Club had its earliest opening on record last weekend.

Meanwhile, in South Canterbury members of the Fox Peak club field reported plenty of snow but were unable to get to the slopes due to damaged access roads.

- NZ Herald and Star News








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