If the idea of a sitting in a hot sauna on a cold winter night sounds appealing, then this story’s for you. A Bend couple has launched a business that is providing that warmth — but there’s a really, really cold side to it, too.
Dorian and Halina Kowalski Thompson’s dream to shake up Bend’s sauna scene is now reality.
“It was my idea. And he really helped,” Halina said. “He really brought it into physical form and brought the vision to life by building our first mobile sauna in a converted horse trailer.”
Sauna — pronounced SAU-nuh, not SAW-nuh.
“We go back and forth, sometimes it’s tricky, but we try to pay homage to its authentic source in Finish and other cultures,” said Halina.
Their business is called Gather.
“Like gathering in nature, gathering the elements in nature and bringing those into the sauna, gathering community and gathering the self. Gathering and finding that that stillness and centeredness and groundedness in self,” said Halina.
The idea, years in the making, came together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started building in 2019, finished in 2020 and we really started hosting pop ups,” said Halina.
This winter, they struck a deal with the Bend Park and Recreation District for a trial run.
“There certainly is some curiosity, said Julie Brown with BPRD.
Gather Sauna House is allowed to set up its sauna at Riverbend Park, with limits on days and hours.
“Any time we’re looking at a request to have some business use in a park, we want to make sure that that can be complementary with any other use,” said Brown.
The district has a team focused on rentals and businesses operating in the parks. Common requests are fielded from fitness classes and dog trainers.
“We’re happy to have those conversations and look for opportunities when it can be balanced with that drop in use of the parks that everybody wants to enjoy,” said Brown.
Six people signed up for one mild January evening session — not only to sit in a 190-degree sauna, but to take a dip in the Deschutes River at about 36 degrees.
“When you’re so hot, you’re craving that cold, and when you’re so cold, you’re craving that hot. And it’s a really satisfying thing to have that immediate exposure when that’s what the body is asking for,” said one of the sauna users.
“Premier location with an awesome natural cold plunge, which is really, truly what sauna was created around,” said another.
The owners and users tout health benefits.
“It’s a cool thing to try. There’s a lot of potential benefits for it,” said Tonn Cummins.
“Wellness practice. It’s been really helpful for mental health and energy levels,” said Tessie Cummins.
Others see it as more than holistic healing.
“You don’t know who’s going to show up and so sometimes you’re just kind of all in there in your own thoughts and it’s like super meditative and that’s super fun. Or you show up and everyone’s chatting, finding like new things in common. I think it’s the mystery,” said Beth Steen.
“It gives me the same exhilaration that I found skydiving and giving birth. So it’s a lot less commitment than that,” said Ashuly Bowen.
If you can’t make it to the river, the sauna can come to you. The couple rents their mobile saunas and can even set up a tub if you’re brave enough mix in a cold plunge.