In the tiny world of endurance racing, the Yukon Arctic Ultra has a reputation.
When racer Simon Donato ranked it number six on his list of the world’s 10 toughest races, he wrote: “In ultra-endurance racing, the weather can make or break you. Running through the dead of winter in northern Canada, this race follows the Yukon Quest Trail, which is also the route of the world’s toughest sled dog race.
“Racing non-stop, and entirely self-supported for days, athletes will battle extreme conditions, and can expect to add frostbite and hypothermia to mere exhaustion.”
Now Donato will get a chance to see first-hand just how true his own words are.
Donato is host of the television show Boundless that airs on the Travel+Escape Network in Canada.
At the end of the month, Donato and his friend Paul “Turbo” Trebilcock will be competing in the race and filming an episode for the show’s second season.
Boundless follows the pair as they compete in extreme competitive events around the world.
They have competed in the Iron Man in Phuket, Thailand, a 250-km foot race through the desert in Egypt and the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships in Hawaii.
Donato said he’s always wanted to visit the Yukon.
“The ultra endurance world is a pretty small one. Once you join you start to hear about all the races all over the world.”
Donato grew up ski racing and studying kenpo karate. In 1998, when he was 21, he started competing in longer races and has been hooked ever since.
“I find there’s value in that I go outside of my easy routine and challenge myself in ways I would never have to in my daily life,” he said.
The Yukon Arctic Ultra gives competitors the option of racing three different lengths: a marathon, 100 or 300 miles (161 or 483 kilometres). Every other year there is also an option to race 430 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson. The next one of those is scheduled for 2015.
Racers can participate on foot, on skis or on a bike.
Both men are competing in this year’s 100-mile event. Donato plans to race on skis while Trebilcock will be biking.
It will be their first experience with extreme cold. Or at least their first experience with extreme cold “on purpose,” Donato says.
In one of the series’ early episodes, filmed in August 2012, the crew was racing in the Icelandic Highlands when temperatures dropped and a snowstorm rolled in.
Donato estimates temperatures that time hit about -10 degrees Celsius.
He’s quick to acknowledge the upcoming race will be much more chilly.
This year’s Yukon Arctic Ultra runs out of Whitehorse from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7th.
The average low temperature for that time of year is between -22 and -27 degrees Celsius, according to organizers.
“The risks are so great that if the weather turns on us quickly and we are not prepared, or if we get something like frostbite, that could end the race,” Donato said.
In preparation for the upcoming race, Donato, who lives in Canmore, Alta, has been practicing outside as much as possible.
He said dressing properly to stay warm during the race is key.
“Normally with a ski race you are only out for a few hours, so it’s not as critical,” he said.
In this case, there are long stretches between checkpoints.
“If you make a mistake, it could certainly end your race,” he said.
Donato has also spent his time practising skiing while pulling a sled with gear. It’s something he’s not used to.
“In the beginning you think you’re fine. But a few hours in, you realize just how heavy that sled is,” he said.
Donato and Trebilcock will be travelling alongside a crew of four people to film their experience.
“It’s one of the races I’m most excited for,” he said.
New episodes of Boundless will begin airing in March.
Contact Ashley Joannou at