In 1917, Will Stoneman's (Mackenzie Astin) father is killed in a mushing accident falling into a frozen river, leaving Will to care for his family. Needing money for college and to save the family farm in South Dakota, Will decides to travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Here he will take part in the dog-sled race that his father would have entered to save the farm.
During the race, Will becomes popular with the newspaper media as reporter Harry Kingsley (Kevin Spacey) who also helped pay for Will to enter the race. The reporter tells about Will's strong courage in what he must do. As Will races for long hours for many days, he endures brutal cold, steep mountains, treacherous river passages and various other obstacles, and grows increasingly tired and sick. There are even attempts by some of the other competitors to sabotage his efforts and even hurt his lead dog, Gus. Will becomes hostile towards his competitors for their sabotage and also towards Kingsley for using him for publicity. However, when one competitor tries to bribe Will to drop out of the race, Kingsley defends Will's honor and the two make amends.
However, on the last day of the race, Kingsley becomes genuinely concerned when he sees how bad Will's condition is, as he can barely move, and advises him to drop out of the race and see a doctor, but Will insists on finishing the race to the end. Will finds himself following his arch enemy (Borg Guillarson) on a dangerous shortcut to the finish line, as it runs near
a turbulent river. Will had been taking great lengths all through the race to dodge water obstacles because of what happened to his father, but he finds the courage to face this one, as Borg's dogs turn against him for using a whip. After taking the shortcut Will comes into view of the finish with a huge lead. Exhausted from lack of sleep, Will collapses near the finish line, until Ned Dodd awakens the spirit of his father's dog Gus, with a familiar whistle. With other racers closing in, Will is able to stand back up again and cross the finish line first just ahead of the other racers. Falling to the ground unable to stand, he is helped up by his fellow racers into his mothers arms. Spectators, along with Kingsley and other race officials and reporters, surround Will applauding him for his victory and not giving up.
- Mackenzie Astin as Will Stoneman
- Kevin Spacey as Harry Kingsley
- David Ogden Stiers as J.W. Harper
- August Schellenberg as Ned Dodd
- George Gerdes as Borg Guillarson
- Penelope Windust as Maggie Stoneman
- Brian Cox as Angus McTeague
- Rex Linn as Joe McPherson
- John Terry as Jack Stoneman
- Richard Riehle as Burton