The folks behind Banya Fest were busy this past weekend putting together a steamy private event at their Banya House location
The windshield wipers were set to “intermittent” as we turned down the mostly private road twenty miles south of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. “There it is!” proclaimed my thermal enthusiast partner in crime, pointing to a collection of mobile saunas set along prairie grass, dotted with festive overhead lighting.
It was a “there it is!” much like what children would say, coming upon there destination be it a theme park or ski hill.
It is twilight. The lights are strung. The tents are up, and attention has moved towards the lighting of fires. I park my car and consider how a sauna party in nature is not complete without fires. Yet I lose count. We have fire pits, wood fired hot tubs, and at least six different sauna stoves scattered throughout the grounds.
The crew is well organized. I am encouraged to join in with a photo and welcome greeting. It’s as if the cold plunge endorphins are already flowing.
Ed Kranz, builder and founder of Saunable: “you must be Glenn.” And off I go with Ed, touring his mobile sauna and Sauna Talking. I step into his generous changing room and taken over by both his craftsmanship and the height of the walls. This is no ice fish house mobile sauna. This is a 22′ custom “knees up” build. It’s a couple hours before guests are due to arrive and already we are idling at 180f. I’m like a Golden Retriever, and Ed just through a stick in the water. Off I go. My shirt is off. I am immersing myself in round one.
This is a sauna that I am very much at home with. Medium Kuuma guarding the entrance, and a step up to raised floor for U shaped benches, fully law of löyly compliant. No yellow card issued. The heat is all over. We all feel it. Thick dense multilateral jazz trio of heat transfer. Ed is rightfully proud to show me his attention to the details (that all count). Clear 2×4 cedar bench material. Comfortable, 24″ wide. Paneling and trim work rivals cabinetmaker quality. Great flow: sauna bathers can come and go, no matter where they are seated.
After round one, Ed takes me around back, to the Saunable control center. He opens up a service panel from the outside, and it as if Ed has been trained by NASA. “I can monitor all my lights, and heat and steam readings remotely, right from here.” We draw parallels to DIY Drones, and i’m wonderfully lost in the dichotomy of sauna simplicity meets sauna tech. Ed’s work is next level mobile sauna.
Ed and I make our way around his sauna and are met by Aaron, Co Founder, Deep Wave Sauna Co. “These two are on autopilot. I can run them in my sleep.” Along with Saunable, the two Deep Wave mobile saunas are also idling right up to temp. The two Deep Wave mobile saunas are work horses. Custom designed, engineered and built, they each share a few secret design elements that I have not seen in mobile sauna. Accordingly, I am beholden to circle of trust for not revealing the secret sauce. Though we don’t need to compare, I will say that each of these two mobile saunas are ready to provide about the best heat, steam, ventilation I have felt in mobile. Anyone who steps into a Deep Wave sauna can appreciate that the Deep Wave posse have spent countless hours reading, testing, studying, building saunas… our kind of guys!
Keegan, Aaron’s partner, pops out of one of his saunas and gives me a big hug. I am already done with round one, but in good sauna etiquette, I am fully showered with a clean rinse, but not sure if Keegan knew that with his hug. Doesn’t matter, the three of us are like teenage boys, ready to hit all the rides at Valley Fair. Big broad smiles of anticipation. Our attention moves right over to…
The Steam Lodge
Here we have a 12’x12′ tent sauna. But not just a mega sauna tent, The Steam Lodge is a new design of particular empirical thinking and function. The challenge: an easy to assemble, cost effective large hot room. We need space for banya action, and we’ve designed and built the Steam Lodge to make it happen. The Steam Lodge was inspired by my Sauna Talk with Todd Ferneaux, my trip to the RunningMan event, Keegan and Aaron’s deep rooted love and appreciation of sauna and sauna building, and Banya House Dan’s need to swing his veniks in peace, love, harmony (without bumping into the walls). “Kuuma can do it.” Aaron continues. Unlike myself, Aaron can say in a few words what takes others several paragraphs. He’s got the “up North”, deer stand restraint and temperament.
Sure enough, as we enter The Steam Lodge, the large Kuuma sits in its center. Benches surrounding. The evil radiant heat transfer is pushing multi-directionally. Laterally, and everywhere. Eternally even. I pop up on the upper bench. Miraculously, the heat is even. We have no “stratification” (sauna buzz word #7). My head is as warm as my feet. How about that? My tape measurer is in the car. But at quick glance, i must be in a sauna, (by some pedantic measure) as my feet are at the height of the rocks. But this is hogwash. The temp about at the floor is even with the temp. up towards the hot room ceiling. Eternally even.
The vibe in the Steam Lodge is part sauna, part Native American Sweatlodge, part sauna tent, and part… wow. Keegan, Aaron, and I talk through some of the build elements of the Steam Lodge. We aren’t looking for 180-200f. Instead, we are looking for mellow heat. We want to control the mico-climate with steam. And a Kuuma gives us this. No wet noodle effect. Hot dry or soft wet steam that Dan can encompass with with his veniks. Speak of the devil! The Steam Lodge door opens and in pops Dan Bond, the Maestro.
The Banya House
“Well boys, I think we are set.” The core group of the creators for this private event are now all gathered inside the Steam Lodge. It is almost show time. Lights are on, all the saunas are lit. The cold plunges are filled, and the signature hot tubs heating and idling up to temperature. Tonight, we are several notches up from a typical private offering at the Banya House. Dan and Anya’s mobile sauna now sits amongst 6 mobile saunas deployed along their meadow, as part of their ten acre property. Dan and Anya are deeply committed to bring good sauna/banya action for their guests. And it shows with every step.
I encourage you to check out my Sauna Talk with Dan and Anya. For the Banya House. In quick summary, it isn’t just hot and cold. For Dan and Anya, the experience is much deeper than hot and cold. The banya experience is personal. For them, it is interwoven with cultural, multi dimensional elements involving nutrition, hydration, heat, steam, compression, circulation, venik massage and restoration of mind, body spirit.
I feel as if we are the production crew going over the checklist before the lights go down at an arena concert.
“So, who is this corporate sauna retreat for?” I ask. And I am introduced to the host himself: Anton. Baby skinned, round faced, and Slavic big smiled (and accented), he’s thanking all that shake his hand for helping make his sauna party happen. I make a note to self: if I need any flooring action happen, I’m calling Anton, owner and founder of Antons Flooring. This is how it works with sauna. Truth reveals itself on the sauna bench. Anton is the kind of guy I’d like to spend more time with. Further, Anton is the kind of guy I’d be comfortable leaving my house keys with, as his team refinishes our floors. More of Anton’s work partners are arriving. And Anton greets each one with that same big broad smile. They are speaking a mix of Ukrainian and Russian. I am brought back to my international sauna travels, warmed and comfortable to not understand the language, but feel the “good vibes” of the exotic culture of sauna (banya) mixed in with the universality of good heat.
Most of the guests seem to know how to make their way around banya. Like me, they get right to it. (One of my sauna in the public domain habits is to hit the sauna early, while the saunas are fresh and hot, and there’s ample bench space). Guests arrive, greet Anton, and work their way to one of the six saunas to change. Off they go!
Throughout the night, I talk some shop. Most of the guests are in the building trade. And most of these guests have plenty of appreciation for the craftsmanship of the six different mobile saunas, spread out like a hand of cards. All Aces and Kings in terms of heat, steam, ventilation.. and craftsmanship.
It’s as if I’ve been transported to a rural village somewhere deep in the hills of former Eastern Europe. Mike’s English is either not extensive or more likely, he wants to focus on his cooking by keeping his answers short and sweet. “What’s in here?” I ask. “Rice and vegetables and things.” He hands me a plate with a kind smile and jesture: “Eat.” What a perfect sauna party dish. I typically only eat after my sauna sessions. But I am feeling perfectly satiated between sips of Anya Banya Tea and Mike’s Eastern European Pilaf, As long as one does not eat too much, it’s perfectly ok to have a light meal as a snack between heavy sauna rounds.
Whether settled on the bench, in the hot tubs or cold plunges, by the fire pits or within the dining tent, I lost count with the number of guests who were simply ear to ear with smiles and laughter. “Contrast therapy” brings out the best in all of us. Nothing like activating the nervous system through cold receptors and affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain.
The sauna party is in full swing. Yet, I look around and ask myself “where did everybody go?” It’s hard to get a head count as most everybody is on a sauna bench somewhere. And this creates great flow. There is minimal stress on the dining tent, cold plunges or fire pits. And if on cue, a group make their way out of one of the mobile saunas, single file and steam billowing, and full smiling.
Venik’s in every sauna
For most of us, oak branches are the kind of things we rake up and jam into our compost bins. But this is not so for Slavic venik masters like Alex from BSaunasUSA and Dan from the Banya House. Oak branches, along with other species like linden and birch, make for excellent whisking tools. And Venik masters discuss their nuances much like professional hockey players and their sticks. Each of the six saunas at this event were equipped with veniks. Each hot room welcomed us with its own natural aroma. And venik treatments broke out spontaneously, with participants emerging from the saunas, unsteadily, beelining themselves straight to the cold plunge tanks.
Saunas are one thing. Saunas with venik treatments bring the experience to an “11.”
Breathing with Nick Fox
The private event is “Fully in. Get go.” We work our way through the cold by centering ourselves in that moment. For some instructors, the moniker is to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, for others it’s “slow down and double your exhale.” Whatever the technique, Nick is back stateside from his Wim Hof retreat. And ready to share techniques with the guests to the Banya Fest private event.
Cool downs in nature
We are well aware that sauna in nature is bigger than all of us. And that with sauna, the cool down is often as enjoyable as the heat up. For this, we have 4-5 cold plunges, two wood fired Slavic inspired hot tubs. Outdoor showers. Multiple fire pits. ample outdoor furniture. This is a private sauna event put on for sauna enthusiasts by sauna enthusiasts.
Would you or your company or your extended family be interested in a 50 to 100 person private sauna retreat? It’s totally possible now!! Send Glenn a note at SaunaTimes.. we can make it happen.