Finland Sauna Reviews, Among Other Topics
The past two months have been a blur; after returning from fall training camp in Park City, Utah with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, we spent less than two weeks home in Vermont before jetting to Finland for a month of early-season skiing and racing. Finland at this time of year is DARK. Nevertheless, Finland makes up for their 2pm sunsets with an impressive dedication to saunas and skis.
Reindeer were a common site in Muonio!
An easy post-travel recovery ski from our cabin in Muonio w/ GRP ski teammates Alex and Margie.
I spent the first two weeks with the Green Racing Project skiers in Muonio, which borders Sweden in Northern Finland, taking advantage of the phenomenal skiing. Muonio also receives a high sauna score. Each cabin’s bathroom had its own sauna; this paired with the convenience of returning to a piping hot sauna after a frigid ski gives the cabin saunas an automatic 7.5/10 score. There was also a lakeside sauna that could be rented out. This fit far more people and was right next to the frozen lake, kept liquid around the dock with a bubbler. This was extremely cold, and the longest we made it was two minutes before returning to the safety of the sauna. The possibilities here for hot and cold contrast between the sauna and lake bump the lakeside sauna score to a 9/10. Also contributing to the near-perfect score was the staging room in the sauna cabin that was perfect for a pre-dinner charcuterie board.
Margie pre-heating for the lake dip.
Exploring the trails on the way back to our cabin from the race venue.
Although I spent a lot of time in the sauna (enough so to lead me to a sauna Reddit thread- see below), I also raced two FIS races to kick off the season and practiced dry-firing my biathlon rifle. The races had impressive competition, with multiple Olympic medalists and World Cup podium skiers, and I was happy to gain international racing experience and sharpen this winter’s race fitness.
How much sauna… is too much sauna? According to the comments from some mystified Finns, there is never too much sauna.
The next stop on the Finland tour was Voukatti, where Margie Freed and I left our GRP ski teammates to join the US Biathlon team’s pre-season camp. We qualified for this camp at October trials in Utah. This was the pre-camp for athletes racing Period I of the Biathlon World Cup and IBU Cup (one step below the World Cup) for the US team. I had never done biathlon in the winter before, so I had a lot to learn before the first IBU Cup races. Minor issues in cross country skiing, like keeping your fingers warm, become bigger problems in biathlon, if left unchecked. I learned this lesson the hard way during the races when my fingers became so cold that I couldn’t tell whether my finger was around the trigger or not. As one can imagine, this doesn’t lead to accurate (or fast) shooting…
Walking to the venue in Voukatti.
Post time trial with GRP teammates Margie and Kelsey.
Range practice at pre-camp.
The pre-camp was a great learning experience, and I felt very grateful for the opportunity to hone my skills and make progress on the shooting front. I found it especially interesting to practice “SCATT” shooting, which is a system that allows indoor practice and tracks the movement of a rifle before and after each shot. This was especially useful to see patterns in my current shooting process and to see how adjustments in my shooting position could influence the precision and consistency of each shot.
A cold training ski with Grace!
Skiing in Voukatti and the most sun we’d seen in days…
On the sauna front, Voukatti also boasted individual saunas in each room. These were standard saunas; nothing set them apart from the ones in Muonio. However, they were lifesavers on several occasions in defrosting me from especially cold days on the biathlon range, so I’ll give them a 6.5/10. The sport hotel we were staying in also had communal saunas with lake access. These saunas had high heat and steam capabilities, which boded well for their overall score. They also had a staircase down to the lake dock for proper hot and cold contrast. Unlike Muonio, I couldn’t touch the bottom of this lake. The combination of the aggressive windchill, long stair approach, and being forced to tread water made the cold plunge feel inhospitable. As I’m unable to separate my inability to handle the cold plunge from the full sauna experience, I’m forced to give the communal Voukatti sauna a 6/10.
The last stop on my Finland tour was Kontiolahti for the first IBU Cup races of the biathlon season. We stayed in Joensuu, which is a small city in southeastern Finland near the Russian border. An ill-timed cold forced me to forgo the first race, but I felt ready to go for the second race. This was a Sprint race, which consists of 7.5 kilometers of skiing with two shooting stages. Although it was intimidating for my first winter biathlon race to be on such a big stage, I set my focus on what I could control. This included setting up in a stable shooting position, as I’d been working on at the pre-camp, and following the same shooting process that I’d practiced at training. Despite not feeling full energy post-sickness, I felt I executed as well as I could have, which was a success on the day. The next day, I blundered the standing stage during my leg of the mixed relay, causing us to get lapped out. This was harder to swallow, as it resulted in two of my teammates being unable to ski their legs of the relay.
The standing shooting stage during my first IBU Cup race!
As for the sauna review in Joensuu, I unfortunately must abstain from giving a ranking. There was one sauna on the floor of our apart-hotel that could be rented out. As I was sick and trying my best to avoid spreading anything, I steered clear of that sauna. The Finnish sauna culture is next-to-none and it was so awesome to have a sauna literally everywhere we went. No one seems to do it quite like the Finns.
After the IBU Cup races, I returned home to Craftsbury for a quick two days before turning back around and heading to Anchorage for the first cross country SuperTour races of the season. These were a chaotic two days of getting caught up on work, skiing, unpacking, repacking, and dealing with my rifle that was stranded in Germany (long story, but it worked out!). I’ll keep the Anchorage recap brief; I always love being back in Anchorage, as the trails are some of my favorites and the early season skiing is almost always phenomenal. This year was no exception, and we enjoyed some snowy racing. There were four races throughout the week, and I came away from them feeling like I’m in a solid place heading into US Nationals. The results were nothing extraordinary, but there were glimmers of strength and a solid foundation upon which to build heading into 2024.
Soaking in the Anchorage views.
Charging during the classic sprint qualifier in Anchorage. Credit: Untraceable/Tobias Albrigtsen.
The skate 10km mass start SuperTour in Anchorage. Credit: Untraceable/Tobias Albrigtsen.
Following Anchorage, I traveled home to Minnesota for the holidays. I skied plenty of laps at Theodore Wirth and even busted out the poles for pole running intervals at Hyland. Next up on the schedule is US Nationals at Soldier Hollow in Utah. The sun in Utah has been a welcome change from the past couple of months and I’m pumped to get the races rolling this week!
Happy New Year!