Traditional Finnish Sauna and Peat Treatments Bring Heat and Healing to the Flathead

Provider Tanjariitta Anttila shares Finnish culture in Columbia Falls with therapeutic sauna and peat treatments at Sauna60°

By Maggie Dresser
Traditional Finnish peat treatment and sauna at Sauna60° in Columbia Falls on April 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Growing up in Finland, Tanjariitta Anttila said relaxing in saunas was a routine part of her life. When guests came over to her family’s home for dinner, it was implied that everyone would strip down and enjoy the sauna followed by a jump in the lake after a shared meal.

Saunas have been integrated in Finnish culture for centuries and their therapeutic practices have even been inscribed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. While it’s always been important for cleanliness, it’s also a place for social connection.

“It’s really an important gathering place,” Anttila said. “It’s part of the culture and we consider it sacred and yet completely ordinary.”

After the death of her father in 2018, Anttila returned home to Finland after practicing social work as a licensed psychotherapist in the United States for 25 years. But when she went back to Scandinavia to be with her family, she couldn’t practice social work in a foreign country.

“That’s when I decided that I was going to formalize my knowledge of the sauna, which is deeply embedded in Finnish culture,” Anttila said.

Anttila graduated from the year-and-half long Sauna Therapy Training program last year and returned to the Flathead Valley, where she had lived for several years prior to her father’s death with her wife and business partner, Jen Cobet.

Steam rolls off of hot rock in a Finnish sauna at Sauna60° in Columbia Falls on April 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In January, she launched Sauna60°, which is the same latitude as her birthplace of Forssa and is also the most therapeutic sauna temperature in Celsius. In addition to the Finnish sauna, she also provides peat treatments in Columbia Falls.

Learning the trade from her dad, Anttila and Cobet built the first indoor sauna with walls made of Aspen trees, elevated larch tree benches and a cedar tree ceiling. She said while many saunas are made entirely of cedar, she said it’s not traditional in Finland. Another sauna is also in the construction phase, which will have a wood stove and a water cauldron and the property will eventually have four saunas in total.

Equipped with an electric stove, water is routinely poured over the indoor sauna to produce steam and sometimes vihta, or birch branches, are used to whisk the body to stimulate skin circulation as part of the treatment.

Before the treatment, visitors will walk into the sauna building and immediately enter the dressing room where there’s also space for a massage table. While it’s traditional to be naked in the sauna, Anttila says it’s not required, and guests can bring a swimsuit or there are towel wraps and disposable thongs are available.

Anttila says that some groups feel uncomfortable with nudity at first, but by the end of the sauna experience, there’s a noticeable improvement in everyone’s comfort level.

“You’re automatically more vulnerable when you strip your clothes off,” Anttila said. “Initially, some people feel uncomfortable, but for me, it’s not a big deal and people pretty quickly become comfortable.”

Clients can book private sauna sessions and Anttila offers community sauna days on the last Saturday of the month for men from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the first Sunday of the month for women from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for $25 per person. A cold plunge is also available on the deck.

The community saunas are intended not only for health benefits, but Anttila wanted to create a space for people to connect and meet one another.

“My intention here is to not only educate people about what a good sauna is and what kinds of health benefits and treatments you can get, but I also want to bring the community aspect of it,” Anttila said.

Traditional Finnish peat treatment and sauna at Sauna60° in Columbia Falls on April 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In addition to the sauna, Anttila also focuses her business on traditional Finnish peat treatment, a partially decayed organic substance that comes from bogs. Most peat bogs began forming 12,000 years ago in northern latitudes after the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Peat includes fulvic acid and humic substances, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and silica.

The peat is massaged in the skin like mud while the client sits in the sauna for 40 minutes at a cooler temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Treatments can be individual or they are also available for groups, which Anttila says have become popular for events like bachelorette parties.

Once the mineral-rich peat, which is 7,000 years old, undergoes lab testing and is sourced from Finland, is absorbed into the skin, toxins are pulled from the body for both health and cosmetic benefits.

Beauty benefits include enhanced collagen production and improved skin elasticity for skin, hair and scalp treatments. It also promotes cell turnover, tightens pores and has anti-inflammatory properties, benefiting those with psoriasis, eczema or sensitive skin.

Clients with muscle aches and joint pain receive peat treatments to help reduce swelling, boost blood flow and metabolism and detox the body.

“The detoxing effects are much deeper,” Anttila said. “Most people report that they feel relaxed and amazing, lighter and less anxious and stressed.”

Buildings on the Blue Star Resort and Retreat property, which is also home to Sauna60°, in Columbia Falls on April 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In addition to the full-body peat, Anttila also provides feet, facial and localized treatments along with immunity boosters. Clients have also requested couples sessions and other customizable services.

Located on Tamarack Road in Columbia Falls, Sauna60° is also part of Blue Star Resort and Retreat Center, which has been offering vacation rentals for more than a decade and provides a large event center that’s used to host yoga classes, wellness workshops, wedding receptions and more.

“We really have intentionally shifted our focus to where we want to be more about retreats, therapeutic intensives and communal stuff,” Anttila said. “We’ve always wanted this to be a place to gather for healing and bringing people together.”

For Anttila, building the sauna and peat treatment center was in itself a therapeutic process following her career in social work, and it’s become a natural extension as a healer.

While her father’s death led her back to Finland, she said the sauna work has guided her through the grieving process.

“The training was a way for me to find some other purpose than just dealing with death and loss and digging deeper into my own roots and learning more in depth about the sauna,” Anttila said. “It’s definitely a gift that he gave me. He literally taught me how to build them … I still hear him here.”

For more information or to book a service, www.sauna60.com.

Tanjariitta Anttila, owner of Sauna60° in Columbia Falls, visits with one of the equine residents of the resort on April 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon