Saariselka, Finland

The Delightful Arctic Heat

rail for heat
Sign indicating the sauna cabin in a hotel in Saariselka
New clients"
Couple prepares to enter the complex where Saariselka's smoke sauna is located.
cold nook
Nook of the building that houses the Kilopaa Fell Center smoke sauna.
Anti-grid boards
Seat boards and fire-retardant equipment in the Kilopaa Fell Center smoke sauna hut.
Finnish Sauna
Group of Finns enjoy the heat of the loumlyly, the steam produced by the water poured over the heated stones.
back to heat
Woman leaves avanto (opening in icy river or lake) back to sauna.
Smoke sauna user leaves the cabin with one of the plates used as a seat
- 5th
Thermometer records the winter temperature at the Kilopaa Feel Center.
Outgoing I
Visitor holds her board and prepares to leave the group
Couple drinks beer after a period inside the sauna.
Just in case
Buoy ready for any emergency on the avanto.
Anti-grid boards II
Seating boards hanging outside the sauna.
avant bath
Two ladies leave the avanto (open hole in a frozen lake or river) after another post-sauna dip.
finnish fire extinguisher
Sauna made
Finn leaves the bathing building of the Kilopaa Fell Center after a prolonged sauna.
It is said that the Finns created SMS so they don't have to talk. The imagination of cold Nordics is lost in the mist of their beloved saunas, real physical and social therapy sessions.

The end of March arrives. Inari receives a new edition of Kings Cup, the most important reindeer racing competition in Lapland.

We had arranged the trip so as not to miss this eccentric event and, with luck, we booked accommodation in one of the many cabins at Lake & Snow Inari Park, which, as usual, was on the pine cone.

Tapani is the head of the family who manages that business and others that involve trips and fishing driven by snowmobiles or boats, depending on the time of year.

He is also our host and makes a point of explaining to us the privilege we had in getting a place there. “Most of our cabins are booked well in advance for the race weekend.

In fact, many of them are taken these days for the next 25 years and the families that rent them would never forgive me if I forgot about them. For us it's a very good deal but less simple than it sounds.”

It doesn't cost us to believe. Tapani drives a voluminous, flashy white Audi, with automatic shifts that tell us they're already adapted to ice and thaw.

Thermometer, Finnish Sauna

Thermometer records the winter temperature at the Kilopaa Feel Center.

Thus, it seems to prove the prosperity guaranteed by your company. We are also aware that most of the participants and spectators who rent you cabins during the competition are reindeer breeders and/or come from a rural Finland not as polite and courteous as the one in Helsinki and other southern cities.

The Inescapable Finnish Sauna Habit

Tapani goes on to explain: “Some guests arrive with bad habits. They park their cars and leave the heating and anti-freeze systems on all night, instead of just two or three hours before they leave, as they're supposed to.

Management, Finnish Sauna

Sign indicating the sauna cabin in a hotel in Saariselka

Last year, around this time, we had -30º of minimum. In addition to the cars, everyone was in the saunas at the same time and caused the main fuse in the park to blow. They froze until the company brigade rescued us. In addition to the energy cost, we had to pay 500 euros just for the intervention.

But what can you do? No one can do without a sauna here and the ones we have in these houses are electrical and the worst.”

Not All Saunas Are Good Saunas

It didn't take long for us to realize how much the Finns are angry with bad heating systems, which dry as much as they heat the wooden cabins and the bodies.

These are the ones that the most affordable hotel chains install in guest rooms out of respect for the principle that a Finnish stay without a sauna is inconceivable.

It is said in Finland that you can build a sauna without a house, but never a house without a sauna.

Icy Cabin, Finnish Sauna

Nook of the building that houses the Kilopaa Fell Center smoke sauna.

There are sauna cabins in the National Parliament, the deepest in the world, at 1400m, on the premises of the Pyhäsalmy zinc and silver mine and wherever Finnish UN peacekeepers travel, which has led to the Eritrea, for example, has also had its own.

From Cold to Cold: Inari trip to Saariselka

In the meantime, we move from Inari to the Saariselka area and join a pre-arranged snowshoe hike up and down the white hills of Urho K. Kekkonen National Park.

The 9km reveals rewarding scenarios but wears us out more than expected. Fortunately, we have a light and refreshing lunch waiting at the resort of Kiilopää. And then, the honor of recovering the punished bodies in an old woman savusauna, or smoke sauna.

On departure, Finnish Sauna

Smoke sauna user leaves the cabin with one of the plates used as a seat

We tour the Fell Center Kiilopää among cross-country skiers and other sportsmen and nature lovers who enjoy the frigid but sunny weekend and come across the picturesque building that houses the changing rooms.

We go through a tunnel and, in the background, we see the white landscape again, dotted with some more resistant vegetation. We enter the changing rooms, warmed by a fireplace with a soft fire and full of winter clothes, and go outside in a bathing suit.

Then, we grab the boards that serve as a seat and push through the old dusky wooden door that separates the excruciating cold from the warmth.

Wooden Seats, Finnish Sauna

Seat boards and fire-retardant equipment in the Kilopaa Fell Center smoke sauna hut.

The Cozy Welcome of the Lapland Sauna

Light enters ahead of us. It reveals the blackened but spacious cabin, filled with a dense fog that shelters dozens of Finns in a lively chatter on a retracted mezzanine.

Confronted with the sold-out capacity, we hesitated on the ground floor. But, after the initial surprise at the visit of the outsiders, the group tightens up and urges us to go upstairs. Only one woman dares to sketch short sentences in English. As such, we do not force dialogues that could become uncomfortable.

full cabin

Group of Finns enjoy the heat of the loumlyly, the steam produced by the water poured over the heated stones.

The fact of finding out where we are from raises comments and expressions that we limit ourselves to observing with curiosity, or if the Finnish dialect were not one of the most impenetrable in Europe.

The novelty quickly wears off and the locals return to their natural conviviality, which they warm up with frequent jokes and with the huge spoonfuls of water they send over the ton of red-hot black stones to renew the löyly, as they call the sauna steam that massages them, stimulates and enhances.

According to Finnish wisdom, it is thirty minutes after leaving a sauna that the human body is more beautiful. We decided to stay for about an hour with various breaks.

Buoy, Finnish Sauna

Buoy ready for any emergency on the avanto.

From Heat to Arctic Ice, From Arctic Ice to Heat

We endure a long first period until another matriarch insists that we do things properly and calls us to cool down: “Come on, come on ! River water!”.

We follow her and a convoy of confident bathers who traverse a boardwalk to the vicinity of the Kiilopuro River, all frozen and covered in snow like the surrounding scenery, except for the forward a small area that park employees keep open with the help of the current.

Saunas in avanto, Finnish sauna

Two ladies leave the avanto (open hole in a frozen lake or river) after another post-sauna dip.

Later, we had fun when we found out that there is an Association in Finland that Avantouinti promotes these invigorating baths and that it is up to her and other entities as well – such as the Finnish Sauna Society and the Finnish Skiing Association (Suomen Latu) to maintain the holes in functional rivers and lakes.

Anesthetic Dive in a Lapland Avanto

We watch the first ladies in their fifties dive fearlessly into the water at 0 degrees to which their husbands are immediately joined. His baths last less than 20 seconds, which doesn't even leave us time for hesitation. Our turn comes and we have to comply with the dignity of the visitor.

We descended the stairs and entered without thinking. The body heat is immediately canceled out by the almost negative temperature and we feel the river pricking us as if it were made of needles. We take one more dip to confirm we're still alive and rush to the rescue of the towels. Afterwards, we return to the interior of the sauna, where we start the process over.

Both inside and outside the cabin, Finns drink cold beers that refresh them less sharply than the river. In Finnish and Latvian cultures it is even acceptable to pour some beer into the water and pour it over the glowing stones to release the aroma of the fermented beans.

Beer hour, Finnish sauna

Couple drinks beer after a period inside the sauna.

But this habit divides the population and, since there are dozens of users present, the group follows the normal procedure and simply tip over can after can.

As they assure in those parts, if it's something that a sauna accompanied by a cold beer doesn't solve then it's more likely not to have a cure.

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