2020 Quest Guest Program is a Family Affair

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Quest Guest Program is an online auction whereby friends and fans of the Yukon Quest bid on their favourite musher. As one of the perks, the highest bidders get a chance to have lunch with their musher before the race. We had a chance to speak with some of the Guests at the Quest Guest lunch this year in Fairbanks. Turns out, there’s a family connection with some of the winners we spoke to, and some of them traveled a long way to take part in this unique opportunity.

Cheryl Hall and her husband Steve are from San Jose, California. Their love of dog sled racing started 10 years ago when they met mushers from Alaska, Sue and Mike Ellis. They went to the Iditarod a couple of times and got hooked on the sport. They’re repeat customers and have been part of the Quest Guest program for five years. This time around, Cheryl bid on veteran musher Rob Cooke and Steve bid on Richie Beattie, another YQ Veteran. Cheryl says, “We are the fan base, groupies of the Yukon Quest.” Cheryl is most excited about the dogs. “I love going around and greeting every single dog who’s going to race and they always give me lots of kisses and they’re happy to see me, “ she added.

Her husband Steve is equally enthusiastic about the Quest Guest program, and especially enjoys meeting “very nice new people” and always comes away feeling much better. Steve loves being in the sled too! He reminisced about his ride last year at -55 in Whitehorse. “The sled ride is always interesting. It’s always funny at the end when they have to push me out of sled,” he chuckled.

Steve and Cheryl are great ambassadors of the race, and their enthusiasm for dog sled racing has rubbed off on other members of their family to join the Quest Guest party. They introduced me to Cheryl’s brother John and sister in-law, Judy. 

Judy and John Kowalsky hail from Fairfield, California. Judy bid on Chase Tingle; she picked him because Chase and her son are close in age, and she said there was something appealing about him…that she felt a connection to him from his picture and his bio. Judy is most looking forward to meeting all the dogs at the start of this years’ race. Having been to the Iditarod, Judy says feeling the dog’s energy and their will and desire to just run, is an experience that she finds hard to describe. “So amazing,” she said. John says he’s excited by the weather! “Being out in -40 degree weather to me is exhilarating!” John’s musher is YQ veteran Cody Strathe. John feels a connection to Cody because they both originally are from Wisconsin. The Kowalsky’s got the sled dog racing bug when they attended their first Iditarod. They were thrilled when the Halls got them involved in the Yukon Quest and are great promoters of both the Quest Guest program, and the race itself.

Another couple we spoke to were James McMahon and his lovely wife Diane from Kerville, Texas. James told us that it was his wife Diane (who is also a volunteer), that did the bidding on 2020 veteran musher, Ryne Olsen. We asked what he was most looking forward to and essentially James said he “simply loves it all’...but as his wife Diane piped in, “it’s really all about the dogs.” Like the Halls, James is a ‘repeat’ customer, and rode as a Quest Guest with Ryne in 2018 in Whitehorse. This lovely couple are true Yukon Quest “groupies” and highly recommend the Quest Guest program to sled dog racing fans.

We also got to speak to a long time local supporter, and 2020 Quest Guest, Barb Gravlin. Barb is also one of the hardworking people at the Yukon Quest office in Fairbanks. Veteran musher, and two-time Quest Champion, Brent Sass was Barb’s musher of choice in the 2020 Quest Guest program. “I’ve known him since he started racing,” she said. “He’s just a down to earth guy.” Barb is most looking forward to the 1.5 mile ride in Brent’s sled at the start of the race, “because it’s an experience of a lifetime.”

Want to be a Quest Guest? Here’s how it works! To become a Quest Guest, fans are invited to participate in an online auction that starts about a month before the start of the race each year. Fans bid on their favourite musher. Bids start at $450US. Highest bidders get:

  1. Lunch with their Musher prior to the race
  2. One ticket to the Yukon Quest Start & Draw Banquet
  3. Special access pass to the staging area before the race
  4. A ride with their musher and their team for the first 1.5 miles of the race at the start
  5. Signed race poster
  6. Professional photo with their Musher

The Quest Guest program is a unique way to engage race fans to really engage with mushers to get a “behind the scenes” look at the Yukon Quest. Formerly the “Starter” Program, it started back in the early 2000’s and generates revenue upwards of $7000USD annually. Not only that, it benefits the mushers in that net proceeds are divided evenly amongst all finishers in the race. Bottom line? ‘It’s really, all about the dogs’.