During the last Polar Vortex in North America, many of us were able to join the “200 club:” enjoying, say, a 180f sauna with outside temperatures hovering around -20f. But what about a run at the 300 Club? Saunatimes is pleased to visit with the Richter family from St. Paul, MN, who share their story of experiencing temperature extremes to an Antarctic extreme. Welcome the Richters:
Tyler: A few years ago Tony and I were talking about the South Pole 300 Club (members take a 200-degree sauna followed by a sprint around the south pole monument when the temp reaches -100). We wondered, quite longingly, if we would ever have that chance here in Minnesota.
Of course, it will never get -100 here like it does in Antarctica, but a 300-degree swing was still theoretically possible on a record-cold Minnesota morning–if we got the sauna hot enough.
When I saw the polar vortex forecast and the potential for -30, I told Tony we had to give it a shot. Honestly, we felt the 300-degree swing was a stretch, but we would be happy just having the hottest sauna on the coldest day in decades. We committed to making the official attempt just before sunrise, when the outside air would be the coldest.
The day before the attempt, we lit the stove, took a few gos in the sauna, then racked up a bunch of split maple and oak inside the sauna to thaw out. The wood was dry, but it was frozen. We couldn’t afford to waste valuable heat by stuffing the firebox with frozen wood.
We also installed a digital thermometer designed for a barbecue grill because the analog thermometer pegged out at 250.
Lastly, we set up the flagpole for our 40-yard simulated south pole dash.
We knew we needed to get the hot room to at least 270 degrees to make the 300-degree swing, but we had no idea if it would make it there. It was uncharted territory.
Tony spent a fitful night stoking the Kuuma every few hours and keeping one eye on the fire extinguisher. When he called me at 6:00 AM and told me the hot room was 265 and still climbing I knew our goal was within reach.
I arrived at 6:30 AM, we added a few more sticks of wood and opened the throttle, and the temp climbed past 270.
At this point the wood inside the stove was glowing nearly white. With any other stove this would have been much more dangerous than it already was. But the Kuuma stove is built like a tank, and it’s surrounded by ceramic insulated steel heat shields. There are also cement shields installed on the walls and ceiling. Thanks to the bulletproof Kuuma stove and redundant heat shields, we felt the risks were managed.
The hot room was 280 degrees at sunrise, just after 7:00 AM. The outside temp was -27. A 307-degree difference.
We disrobed and stepped in to the hot room for a surprisingly unremarkable go. We talked and joked like it was any other sauna. About 10 minutes later, we slipped on our boots and made the run for the pole.
It felt so good that we went in for another go and another trip around the flagpole, this time with a dive in the fresh snow.
Then it was time for a cold shower, and two pots of hot coffee.
It was a thrill to make such a fun and unique memory we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives. And if anyone at the Amundson-Scott South Pole station is reading this, we’d love to join you next time you make a run for it.
Meanwhile, having the only documented 300 Club in North America (or perhaps outside of Antarctica) is a great conversation starter.
How/when you first became exposed to sauna?
Dave: I grew up on the Iron Range and spent a lot of time at the lake, where there was always a sauna nearby. And my wife (who is is 100% Finnish) is from Embarrass, the epicenter of authentic Finnish sauna in Minnesota.
Tyler: We grew up taking saunas, as long as I can remember. We had a basement sauna with an electric stove. Our mom’s side of the family is all Finns so they had wood-fired saunas. Many times as kids we were chased out by the relentless steam thrown by an uncle singing Finnish sauna songs.
Tony: My first memories of sauna were on the lower bench as a young boy. My dad’s love of sauna and my mom’s Finnish ancestry meant sauna was always around and enjoyed.
How does sauna play a part with your busy life?
Tony: Sauna is a priority. With four kids under the age of five it can be a challenge to find the time but I almost always do, and my wife has come to love saunas, too. The kids have come to enjoy sauna quite a bit. It helps that I give them lemon drop candies every time they enter the changing room.
Dave: It’s an imperative that I relax in the sauna several times a week. It’s something I just need to do, and it’s good for me.
Tyler: I like to get out into the woods and spend long weekends at our off-grid cabin, which we built ourselves. It has a wood-fired sauna right inside. We wash up with stored rainwater, or take a swim in the creek down the hill. To really unwind, there is no match for a hot birch-fired sauna under a dark sky in the quiet woods.
How did you come upon and choose a Kuuma?
Dave: I still spend a lot of time on the Iron Range, and when I asked around about wood-burning sauna stoves, all I heard was Kuuma this and Kuuma that. So I checked it out, bought one, and never looked back. It is the best! And Darryl Lamppa is a rock-solid guy.
Tony: I chose a Kuuma after seeing how well my dad’s Kuuma stove performed. And it’s UL-listed, which was important to me because I had my backyard sauna vetted by the city building inspector. My Kuuma is an incredible stove; clean burning, and made better than any other stove, or really any other product I’ve purchased, for that matter.
Tyler: Each of us has a Kuuma stove! But mine is still on the pallet in the garage. I’ve helped my dad build a sauna, then helped my brother build a sauna, and now I guess it’s my turn. No matter what my sauna ends up looking like or where it’s located, there will be a Kuuma at the heart of it.
Any other topics you’d like to share?
Tyler: When Tony moved a few years ago, he hired a crane to relocate his sauna from his old house. That was wild. That’s commitment.
Dave: When we were clearing the site for the cabin, we constructed a makeshift wilderness sauna out of scrap lumber and a heavy tarp, and gathered enough rocks to fill a steel pail. Once the rocks were heated in the campfire, we took steam, laughed, and enjoyed it just like any other sauna.
Tony: I have come to appreciate micro saunas when time is tight. One of my favorite saunas was just one go and thirteen minutes long, including clean up time. I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner and time got away from me, but a brief sweat and moment of relaxation was exactly what I needed on a busy holiday before the big meal.
Do you have a typical sauna routine, or some specific sauna ritual you do when you sauna?
Tyler: After lighting the stove I always take a moment to listen to the sound of the air rushing in, the bark snapping and crackling, and the fire taking off. At the cabin we we heat the sauna exclusively with birch wood. The heat lasts a long time and the smell of the smoke is very pleasant.
I usually take three or four gos at 180 degrees with plenty of steam. I enjoy a beer on the breaks, sometimes with a cigar. And I use so much cold water when washing up that everyone calls me Water Buffalo.
Tony: I sauna on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the kids are having quiet time. My ideal sauna is 200 degrees for five gos over a couple hours, with 50-degree fall weather during cool downs.
Some of my favorite saunas are after a work trip. Nothing beats catching a 6:00 AM flight home on a Friday, then starting up the Kuuma while finishing the work day, handling calls and emails from the changing room. Then, a much-deserved happy hour sauna.
Dave: I have one routine, which is to sauna as often as possible. In the afternoon or evening, alone or with family and friends, for one go or many gos.
What is one specific moment within your sauna session that you most enjoy, if you had to choose only one moment?
Dave: The anticipation. Looking forward to the camaraderie and relaxation.
Tony: The first round in the hot room is particularly satisfying. Stress and worry melt away.
Tyler: Stepping out under the stars on the first break and cracking an ice cold beer. Even better if it’s raining.
What is one thing about sauna do you think is misunderstood, that you’d like others to know?
Tony: Some people perceive a lot of awkwardness in the social interactions in the sauna, given the sweaty, unclothed bodies in close proximity. But once you’ve had that authentic sauna experience, you know it’s a great place for conversation and getting to know someone.
Dave: It’s a great way to joke, relax, and enjoy the company of family and friends in a wholesome way.
Tyler: It’s easy to think sauna is a novelty. For a lot of people, Finns and Americans alike, sauna isn’t a hobby or a lifestyle. It’s just a normal part of everyday life.
If you could have a kick ass mobile sauna and bring it anywhere in the world and take a sauna, where would you choose?
Tony: It would be a lot of fun for it to be truly mobile. It would pick me up from work downtown Minneapolis, and I take steam while it works its way to my house in the burbs. Then I step out refreshed and ready for whatever the night has in store.
Tyler: The longest and most memorable sauna of my life was after a backpacking trip in Patagonia. After sleeping on the ground for 10 days my wife and I splurged on a nice seaside hotel and spa to recover, and I had the sauna to myself for an entire afternoon.
One wall of the sauna was entirely glass, and it looked out over the ocean a few yards away. I probably went for 10 gos over three hours, with a dip in an outdoor cool tub on each break.
I had never gone into a sauna feeling more tight and come out more relaxed. So, I would bring that sauna and that view to my backyard.
Dave: My driveway, please, next weekend!
If you could arrange a sauna session with one other person, anyone in the world, dead or alive, past or present, who would you choose?
Dave: My Dad, God rest his soul.
Tyler: I would go into the past and have a sweat with Teddy Roosevelt at his ranch on the Little Missouri River.
Tony: I dream of the day someday soon when I can have my wife and all four kids in the sauna at once.
let’s watch Dave, Tyler, and Tony joining the “300 Club” on a -20f Minnesota winters morning: