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I stood behind a heavy wooden door, peeking out at the frozen land beyond. Snow was falling steadily, adding to the piles that were already banked up against the outside of the small wooden building. I looked back at the bench where all of my clothes sat, happily folded up and basking in the warmth pouring out of the door leading into the sauna itself.
Was I crazy? Why was I even contemplating running out of the sauna — the lovely, warm sauna — and jumping, buck naked, into a pile of snow? What seemed like a great idea when it was suggested to me was quickly losing its appeal.
I had no one there to goad me on either. The sauna’s owners, Juha and Karin of Arctic Husky Adventures, had offered me the chance to use it after a cold and very dark day of dogsledding. Juha told me that since I probably wasn’t used to sitting in a sauna naked with people I hardly know, they would get it ready for me and then let me use it on my own.
I really appreciated their generosity in letting me use their sauna by myself — and their understanding that perhaps I wasn’t as easygoing about stripping off my clothes as some Europeans may be — but at this point, as I jumped from foot to foot trying to will myself forward, I really would have liked someone to force an end to my indecision by shoving me out the door.
Since I didn’t have the luxury of someone else making the decision for me, I decided to count down instead…after checking that no one was peeking out of the kitchen window to laugh at what a fool I was about to make of myself. When I counted from two to one, I leapt out the door and threw myself at a specially-prepared pile of snow just outside. It’s hard to describe the shock that went through my body when I landed, splayed on my stomach across the snow. I did my best imitation of a roll and covered as much of myself as I could in snow before I bolted back into the building.
When I closed myself back into the 60C+ room, every part of my skin that had touched the snow started tingling as though it would never stop. It was uncomfortable to start with, and was actually very similar to the feeling of immersing yourself in an ice-cold stream and then jumping out — except, surprisingly, jumping into the snow wasn’t a miserable experience. It actually ended up being quite refreshing, especially when combined with hitting my arms and legs with a vihta (a bunch of birch twigs, banded together and slightly steamed on the coals of the sauna).
Even without the insanity of running out into the snow while it was -15C, the sauna was a much more luxurious experience than I’d ever had before. It had been designed by Juha to be a traditional Finnish sauna, so I had hot coals to throw water on to add to the already humid atmosphere in the room. I was even supplied with everything I needed to take a full bath — buckets, shampoo, everything. This proved to be a bit more active than I felt like being after my leap into the snow, so I instead spent most of my time lying on bench near the roof of the sauna, relaxing and enjoying the heat.
Even though I spent a lot more time sitting in the sauna, sweating out any cold that may have been left in my system from the day, it wasn’t what made the day for me. Never in a million years did I think I would be rolling in the snow voluntarily while stark naked, but I did it. Now the only problem is that I promised Juha that if I went back I would go in the sauna with other people…which I think I could handle, as long as they promise to shove me into the snow when I’m too scared to jump for myself!