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Local skier Lukas Bennett finds his groove in milestone year

The Whistler Freeride Club athlete finished his season ranked No. 4 in North America

Lukas Bennett’s friends, family members and coaches have witnessed his skiing ability evolve first-hand over time. Freeride is his passion, and he usually carves down mountainsides with gusto. However, Lukas has dealt with a mental block for years, being perennially unable to perform up to his own standard in official competitions.

All of that changed in 2023.

The 17-year-old finally put together a rock-solid campaign from start to finish. With 3,609 points, he can call himself the fourth-highest ranked IFSA Junior freerider in all of North America—a far cry from last year when he wiped out in most of his contests. 

“I felt like I could always perform, but I just wasn’t able to do it in competition. I was never able to figure it out—it was just the nerves getting to me,” Lukas admitted. 

Then, he altered his mindset. After talking with his Whistler Freeride Club (WFC) coaches Dan Elgar and Derek Foose, Lukas stopped fixating on the fact that he’d be skiing in front of judges. Instead, he viewed every contest run like something he could pull off among his friends, nine times out of 10.

“He seemed to be in the right headspace, he has skied amazing all year and has been having the most fun too,” said Lukas’ mother, Geraldine Zinsli. 

His older sister, Emeline Bennett—herself a Junior World Champion in ski cross—agrees wholeheartedly.

“I think Lukie finally put together a season where he was himself,” she remarked. “He found his style and his flow, and he was always present. It seemed like he never let the other aspects of his life take over and he could just ski like he knew he could—competition after competition. 

“He stayed humble and stuck to his style, and believe me, I am so, so proud of his results—but I think more than anything, he just had a great season where he could take every day and every competition for everything it was worth and be proud of himself.” 

Indeed, Lukas’ victories this year at the Red Mountain National, Whistler Regional and Revelstoke Regional events are feats to take pride in. 

A family business 

As the son of two avid skiers—including a ski-racing mom—Lukas’ introduction to fresh powder and majestic mountains was inevitable. Like many young Whistlerites, he first got onto skis as a toddler and joined the local ski school as soon as he was able.

Unlike many, however, Lukas’ early experiences were less than idyllic.

“I actually hated it,” he remembers. “I would cry every single time.”

Yet the Bennetts didn’t give up, and eventually Lukas came around. While some athletes love halfpipes and moguls to death, he was instead captivated by the freedom and variety of terrain in freeride.

Meanwhile, Emeline discovered her passion in ski racing. The siblings have always been close—though not without an element of rivalry. 

“I always wanted to be like [my sister],” said Lukas. “We’d go out on family ski days, and she would be critiquing my skiing and I would hate it, but I think probably that made me a better skier.” 

Over time, though, Lukas realized that his dynamic with Emeline is more constructive than that between some siblings—rather than constantly engage in one-upmanship, they try to make each other better. Nowadays, the duo finds that pursuing different disciplines at a high level is bringing them even closer. 

“Lukas and I always had the same interests, played the same sports and were into the same things. It was never in a competitive way; we didn’t fight about which of us was better,” Emeline said. “We both know the pressures of competition; we want to challenge and push ourselves but also hold ourselves to such a high standard. It’s the most rewarding and the most stressful part of our lives.” 

Paying it forward

Lukas’ days with the WFC are coming to an end, at least for now. The last seven years have blown by, and he remembers them being full of fun and fellowship with like-minded people. Above all, he praises his trainers for always making him feel comfortable, even when he struggled at contest after contest.

“I’d like to shout out all the coaches of the Whistler Freeride Club, because they’ve definitely been a huge part of my life,” Lukas said. “I definitely could not imagine my life without freeride.” 

The Whistlerite has at least one more hurrah as a junior skier: the 2024 Freeride Junior World Championships. As Canada’s top-ranked youth freerider, he has a golden opportunity to don the Maple Leaf at one of his sport’s biggest competitions. After that, he plans to pursue an engineering degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC), an endeavour that is sure to demand the bulk of his time.

Nonetheless, Lukas also wants to get into coaching—hopefully alongside Elgar and company at the WFC—because of how gracious fellow club members have been to him. 

Not every sport or team has upperclassmen willing to mentor kids on the cusp of adolescence, but seasoned WFC athletes have always treated their younger counterparts with care. Lukas remembers the impact they’ve had on him and wishes to pay it forward.

“I still haven’t really realized it, but it’s kind of crazy to think about [the fact that] me and my friends are the older kids now, and some of the younger kids might look up to us,” he said. “So, I’m trying to return that sense of community to them as much as I can.”