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Emeline Bennett, Nick Katrusiak medal at ski-cross Junior Worlds

Bennett won the ladies’ event, while Katrusiak came second among men
Emeline Bennett (left) and Nick Katrusiak celebrate their mixed team silver medal at the 2024 Ski Cross Junior Worlds in Idre Fjäll, Sweden.

Emeline Bennett and Nicholas Katrusiak didn’t necessarily have lofty expectations for themselves going into the FIS Ski Cross Junior World Championships last month. Both are relative newcomers to Canada’s NextGen squad, and experience-gathering is key at this point in their careers. Even so, they rose to the occasion. 

Bennett defended her Junior Worlds title from 2023, becoming the first Canadian to secure two gold medals at the event. Katrusiak went home with silver around his neck as he pushed eventual victor and compatriot Kaleb Barnum from start to finish. Moreover, Bennett and Katrusiak repeated as runner-ups in the mixed team discipline. 

“Coming up in the same program as a bunch of other great skiers, the Junior Worlds were a really good reassurance that I'm still with them and I'm striving to do what they can do,” said Bennett. “I’m really glad I was able to put it together.” 

Remarked Katrusiak: “I wasn't really expecting anything crazy, and the race was on a track that I'd never done before [in Idre Fjäll, Sweden]. I was just going there excited for the opportunity.” 

On track

The Sea to Sky contenders faced not only quality opponents in Sweden, but a calibre of venue they rarely get to test.

Idre Fjäll hosts one of the world’s more prolific ski cross tracks. In fact, it’s where Marielle Thompson clinched her fourth Crystal Globe at March’s end. World Cup courses are designed to push elite athletes to their limits, with very little margin of error compared to Nor-Am venues meant to foster skill development. 

“There's obviously a lot of hype around Idre. It's known as one of the fastest tracks, especially that bottom straight—there was a good draft there,” Bennett explained. “And they like to build up these big, big jump lines.” 

Bennett has some experience on this kind of track, with two bronze medals from Nakiska this season. Regardless, she made a few errors in her qualifying run before finding herself in last midway through the semifinal. The 20-year-old took a few deep breaths to keep her poise, knowing that she could gain a lot of speed in the course’s final stretch. 

She did just that, making four passes to advance to the final. There, she bested Germany’s Veronika Redder and Uma Kruse Een of Sweden for victory. 

Katrusiak performed admirably on the men’s side, sharing the podium with Fernie native Barnum and German bronze medallist Till Hugenroth. 

“It’s obviously awesome for my teammate Kaleb and you’ve got to be stoked for him, but it’s a little bittersweet,” admitted Katrusiak. “You’re more competitive with someone you train with because of all the competing you do with that person on a daily basis.” 

Partaking in top-flight European contests removes Bennett and Katrusiak from friends and family on home soil, while exposing them to the passionate crowds and high-pressure situations normally found overseas. That’s a valuable experience in and of itself, with medals a well-earned bonus. 

A culture of excellence 

A shared silver in the mixed team race was the high note that both Bennett and Katrusiak wished to finish on. Redder and Hugenroth claimed gold for Germany, but the Canadians managed to best their American rivals Morgan Shute and Jack Mitchell. 

“It's a really unique event where it feels like your results matter more because you want to succeed for your teammate,” said Bennett. “The results are really meaningful because you are so connected as a team and because your performance directly affects someone else. You want it that much more.

“Nick is an amazing teammate. He has a very unique ability to carry a lot of charisma within the team. You can see how he rises physically to the challenge, but he doesn't lose any sense of self. His skiing matches the demand…but at the same time, he's always there to talk to you or make you laugh. Plus, he doesn't really shy away from the older guys on the team.” 

Katrusiak also had high praise for his fellow Whistlerite. 

“Emeline is very driven,” he said. “Not a lot stands between her and her goals. She has insane motivation. She pushes hard, on the hill and off the hill.” 

Bennett and Katrusiak’s success is a microcosm of their country’s ski cross dominance. Senior athletes like Thompson, Reece Howden, Jared Schmidt and Brittany Phelan launched Canada to its 11th Nations Cup, with Howden finishing second in men’s overall rankings. It’s a legacy that younger Canadians aim to uphold in years to come. 

“[Emeline and I] were lucky enough to join the World Cup team for two races this season, and seeing the way they operate is incredible,” Katrusiak said. “They're so dialed into what they know they need and how they prepare for a race. They say it's a culture of excellence, and it really is.”