“Finnish Lines” – Ski Hill Cabins and Saunas Rewrites Vacationing with Steam

Rendering courtesy of Gray Space Architecture
Rendering courtesy of Gray Space Architecture

There is no single English word for It, but there are English words for It.

It starts inside a structure that looks something like a cabin, but smaller—more…specific somehow—composed wholly of flat, polished wood.  It looks as if the classiest park bench in the world grew a floor, four walls, and a ceiling.  In the center of the not-cabin, an iron dragon’s head is fed tree trunk chunks, smoke rising through the stone crown adorning the dragon’s head.  Smoke, black and white and grey, escapes through a crafted hole in the ceiling like a mischief of flying mice.  This is just as well–the smoke isn’t the purpose of the fire, merely a side effect.  

The burning process doesn’t last long:  a mere six hours…or seven, perhaps…no more than eight.  The dragon’s crown—a heap of stones placed on top of a specially-designed oven, in point of fact—is ready and will remain so for the next half-day.   The fire has made the stones hot—really, really hot.  Nearby, nearly invisible against the grain of the not-cabin, a wooden bucket houses a wooden ladle, along with something that might have been a pile of snow mere minutes before: water, pure and simple.  The heat in the rocks summons the water or seems to.  

When the water is poured upon its crown in serpentine whip tails, the dragon hisses.  The water and heat have become one thing, and that one thing doesn’t rise.  It swirls, bouncing from wall to recently grown wall like a blind snake, caressing everyone it touches.   

And that is It.  

There is no single English word for It, but, in Finnish, the heat and the steam coming together and is known as löyly.   Löyly makes hearts quicken, blood vessels widen, and muscles untangle. The Finns originally intended löyly as a means of cleaning oneself from the inside out, a bare necessity when one lives in a nation and a time where the average temperature is an eleventy below nine months out of the year and running water is just a pipe dream.  Because of this, savusauna became an integral part of Finnish life, forming a culture all its own. 

Photo courtesy of Ski Hill Cabins

The modernizing of this culture is the current olemassaolon syy of partners Patrick Kindler and McCabe Plaas, and two unlikelier such modernizers you’re unlikely to find.  “We weren’t sauna people before we started this,” Kindler admits.  “Now we totally are.”  Although the obvious biological considerations—the quickened hearts, the widened blood vessels, and the untangled muscles–factored into this conversion, the thoroughly-American practice of turning the sauna into a social hub factored in even more.  “We met the coolest people at the sauna,” Kindler remembers.  “After a while, he’d all bring something and just hang out.”  

The this that they started is Lutsen, Minnesota’s Ski Hill Cabins and Saunas.  When it opens this summer, the ambitious establishment will allow others to indulge in the same modernizing of the ancient custom.  “Each of the cabins has its own private sauna,” Plaas assures.  “We really wanted them [vacationers] to have their own space to be with friends and family.  So they also have a private outdoor fire ring and seating area.”  The website puts it more simply:  “We love the social aspect of the practice, as well.”

Rendering courtesy of Gray Space Architecture

The cabins are a three-dimensional, trapezoid manifestation of these parallel purposes, each designed to accommodate between eight and ten leisure-takers and each offering high speed internet and television…because, sure, vacationers want to get away from it all, but they’re also not savages.  Other amenities include a full kitchen, a living room, a master bedroom, a second bedroom, bathrooms, and a loft.  “During a family vacations, the loft is the first place where kids go,” Plaas reports, then adds with a laugh:  “It’s also the last place they leave.”  

Another Ski Hill Cabins-centric feature is that of the rather large parts of wall made of glass.  “We love big windows,” Kindler declares.  “We want people to feel like they’re outside, even when they’re not.”  Of course, if they are outside, vacationers still have leisure options open to them.  In addition to the sauna-adjacent fire pit, each cabin also features a gas grill.  The official website adds, “Enjoy the privacy of your own modern cabins nestled in the woods.”  

Says Kindler of the offered space, “We want it to feel like a cross between an Airbnb and a resort.”  And although Ski Hill Cabins and Saunas taps into a tradition older than the written word—the saunas, remember–the four newest homes-away-from-home, as of press time, still languish in the future.  “The first [two] cabins open July 15th,” Kindler assures.  “The second [two] cabins open December 15th.  It is all brand-new construction.”

Photo courtesy of Ski Hill Cabins

Of course, some city slicker rabble rousers visit the North Shore of Minnesota in order to see the North Shore of Minnesota, the pleasures of deliberate sweating notwithstanding.  If such people visit Ski Hill Cabins, those people are strategically headquartered.  “The adventures are endless on the North Shore and even more so in Lutsen, Minnesota where we are in the heart of it all,” the Ski Hill Cabins and Saunas’ website declares.  Such local locales include Lutsen Mountains (which offers summit express rides and alpine slides during the warm months), Norpine Trails (including the Deeryard Loop, the Pioneer Loops, and the Massie Loop, among many other loops), and Superior Hiking Trail (including Lower Aguasabon Falls, Kakabeka Falls, and Saxon Falls—none of which should be trod upon or even pronounced by the overserved). 

Ski Hill Cabins and Saunas’ co-founders and co-operators intend to create their own löyly, combining their disparate energies within a specific environment in order to generate something wholly unique.  “We’ve both been involved with the Twin Cities gay community for a long time,” Plaas remembers.  “I used to be a bartender at Jetset.”  Resolves Patrick Kindler, “We’re really excited about this new endeavor, and we look forward to welcoming folks from LGBTQ+ community!”  


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