DULUTH — Steam rising from his body, Justin Meinhold stepped off a 36-foot barge moored in a harbor slip and moved to a floating platform, its center jaw opened to the frigid water below.

The Duluth resident has long been a fan of jumping into cold, northern Minnesota lakes, so he skipped the ladder on the rainy, December day and plunged in from the dock, like usual.

"It's quite a feeling of hot, to cold, and then silence," he said, of being under the 33-degree water. "But I did get out a little quicker."

And back he scurried to the 180-degree heat of Duluth's newly opened public floating sauna, ready to warm up and do it again.

Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna's 40,000-pound vessel fits 10 people inside a spacious, wood-paneled and window-adorned sauna, powered by two wood stoves, each filled with 400 pounds of stone. Patio seating is on one side of the barge and a ladder on the other. In the summer, sauna-goers can climb to the second level to jump off, eschewing the platform. The company will contend with spring ice by installing fans under the vessel to circulate water.

Since it was founded in 2019, Cedar and Stone has been on a tear to have more Minnesotans sweating and icing off, with several public saunas at Pier B Resort, an igloo-like ice sauna in 2021 on the shore of Lake Superior, and one on the rooftop of the Four Seasons Hotel in Minneapolis.

"Sauna is having this really interesting moment where the health benefits are finally being researched and published," owner Justin Juntunen said. "Hot and cold therapy sauna and cold water immersion is really having an impact."

It's also part of the region's Nordic-rich culture, he said, and public offerings here are growing because more people are learning about those health benefits. He pointed to another floating sauna operated by Sisu and Löyly seasonally on Devil Track Lake near Grand Marais.

For now the $150,000 vessel at Pier B is stationary, and would need propulsion added and Coast Guard approvals to make its way into the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. It is a future consideration.

Zane Brosowske is a sauna guide for Cedar and Stone. He teaches users, who pay between $49 and $99 for the privilege of sweating and plunging, how to breathe as they enter the St. Louis Bay. He also keeps the stoves hot and aromatherapy fragrant, and offers electrolyte-rich water.

"It's so fun to watch people go through that experience," he said of plunging. "The first 15 seconds your body goes into fight or flight — your body is saying to you that if you don't get out of here, you're going to freeze to death. But you can work yourself through that mentally ... I tell folks to find their calm and you can start to control your breath and really just enjoy being in cold water. And that's a lot easier when you've got a hot room to run back to."

A couple from Stillwater was on their second day of using the floating sauna, after a night of watching the lights of Bentleyville flicker across the slip from the gently rocking barge.

The whole experience "was magical," Carol Peterson said.

Duluth resident Mollie Meinhold said her first plunge into the slip left her breathless, and she didn't even go under. The second time she heeded Brosowske's advice and climbed down slowly and methodically, plugging her nose before slipping beneath the surface.

"Dunking feels good!" she said.