Guest post series continues. Please to introduce Christopher, who, in the wake of shitty hotel and health club saunas, shares a passion towards the authentic.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from, what you’re up to, etc.
Hello. My name is Christopher Rice and I’m a “sauna hound”. I’m originally from California but have lived in Southeastern Minnesota (Rochester) for the past 30 years. I’m husband to Julie (she’s Cambodian), and father to four kids (their ages are 10, 9, 7, 5). We run a 360° photography and web design company called Exactly Done. Julie does the photography and I do the computer work. We’ve even done some 360° photos of saunas.
How did you first get into sauna? Was there a moment or a formative experience that impacted you?
We accidentally stumbled upon real sauna one spring night in Madison. We were visiting family in Wisconsin and staying at a rental that had a tiny electric sauna attached to a nearby house. My wife and I used it, hoping to relieve winter’s “deep bone chill” that happens in Minnesota. I’m not sure how hot that little electric stove got, and we didn’t even throw any water on the rocks (because we knew that you are not suppose to do that). After sitting and talking in the sauna for a while, we decided to head back to our rental. It was about 40° outside and we had our swimsuits on, so we expected to feel super cold on the walk back. To our surprise, we felt great. The cool air was invigorating after the hot sauna.
After a shower, I started wondering “Where does sauna come from?” I learned from a Google search that it’s a Finnish practice and that it’s a fuller experience than the hotel saunas we’d used in the past. I discovered that there are even wood-burning saunas. I was intrigued. I’d have to try one. This was the start of our sauna journeys through the upper midwest using different wood-burning saunas. Now…we’re totally hooked.
You’ve started the Woodburning Sauna Facebook group. Tell us a little about it. How many members, etc. How did this come about? Where would you like this to lead?
As I previously mentioned, I’m from California and Julie’s family is from Cambodia. Also, we live in an area of Minnesota with no natural lakes or Finnish immigration, so our friends and family don’t know much about real sauna. They think we are little crazy. I can’t really blame them; bathing in an oven with friends is an odd thought for most Americans.
When I get obsessed with something (tea, salsa, coffee, sauna), I enjoy sharing it with those around me. I started a website and Facebook group so that our friends could follow our sauna journey. The website is Sauna Digest and the Facebook group is called Wood-Burning Sauna. I chose “wood-burning sauna” instead of just “sauna” because there are so many mediocre saunas in the U.S. and I wanted to make it clear that I’m not talking about those (gym saunas, hotel saunas, infrared closets, basement/storage saunas). The percentage of wood-burning saunas that are wonderful is much, much higher. Glenn spells it out well with his sauna chart.
The website and group started with posts of our experiences using different saunas, notes on sauna books I was reading, and links to internet research. Eventually, I started connecting with other sauna-hounds online who joined the conversation and shared their sauna stories. I’ve learned a bunch from them. I have no grand plans for these digital places, but eventually I’d like to see a super-detailed, English-language, Finnish sauna, online, educational hub be created.
Tell us about your sauna routine lately. Where do you enjoy sauna, how, etc?
We don’t have a sauna (yet) because we have the world’s smallest yard. So we have to travel to use good saunas. This has been the research for our future build. After using around 20 different wood-burning saunas, in six states and two countries, we have a decent idea of what kind of sauna we’d like to build. Here are some checklist items for our future sauna (God willing).
– capable stove
– log walls
– tons of rocks
– deep benches, maybe even a platform for the top bench
– no electricity in the sauna building (rustic)
– lots of natural light, especially in the hangout room
– cold plunge or shower (or both)
– separate building from the house
– good fresh air/ventilation
My Sauna Soapbox
– As with any translation of a cultural practice, it is important to properly understand its origin. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of returning to the Finnish practice of sauna to make sure we don’t “mistranslate” something (low heat, no water on the rocks, no cold plunge, no vihta). Because of this, and because I’m a linguistics nerd, I’ve even started pronouncing it correctly–“sow-na”. It’s not crucial to pronounce it properly, but it does demonstrate some respect and care in the “translation” of sauna.
– When business and sauna mix, it’s dangerous. It can be done well, but often isn’t. Even good sauna businesses and organizations are getting into the infrared trend. :-/ When the Finnish Sauna Society was founded in 1937, they purposefully chose to exclude business interests. This helped keep them focused and prevented the watering down of sauna. Bernhard Hillila says it best in his book Sauna Is. “With the American penchant for merchandising there is, however, a danger that in our land the concept of sauna will be stretched badly out of shape to include sauna belts, sauna facial masks, sauna tubs, sauna cabinets, sauna tents, and steam rooms of all kinds! If the product involves heat, the ad man gets a sudden perspiration and says, “Let’s call it sauna! That’s an ‘in’ term.” Such “saunas” lose something in the translation. The term “sauna” is properly applied only to baths in which the entire body receives dry heat and steam. It is to be hoped that the rapid spread and increased popularity will not lead to a changed, misdirected pattern.”
– It’s a shame that savasauna has died out in North America. It makes it hard for me to find one to use. (See my sauna bucket list.) In Finland, there’s been a savusauna revival since the middle of the 20th century. See this Facebook group for great modern examples.
Ok. I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thank you for reading.