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Winter ball doubles fundraising in second year 

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Dance floor at the first Big Sky Winter Ball. PHOTO BY KRIS ZIGICH

Impact will continue to grow with final ticket sales in week leading up to event 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

Matt Zaremba and Allen Potts, co-founders of the second annual Big Sky Winter Ball, recognized there aren’t a lot of chances for locals to dress up and dance for a night out in Big Sky.  

Last year, they created the Winter Ball to benefit local housing efforts through the Big Sky Community Housing Trust. On Friday, Feb. 24, the event will be back in its second year, hosted at the Independent from 8 p.m. until close. Tickets are on sale for $150, from which about $80 will be donated to the housing trust after covering the cost of drinks and DJ sets. Assistance is available to help industry workers cover the cost, and willing community members can purchase a ticket to donate and sponsor another’s night out.  

The Independent lowered the cost of their open bar to support the event, as did the DJs, according to Zaremba, who spoke on the phone with EBS about the event’s mission and history.  

“[The] housing trust is going through another round of funding as we speak,” he said. “They successfully used all their funding for Good Deeds… From our standpoint, it sounded like they were in the middle of a fundraising push, so we wanted to contribute to that.” 

All proceeds from the event will be gifted as an unrestricted donation to the housing trust, which recently applied for large-scale funding from Elevate Big Sky to support Good Deeds. 

“The impacts are really two-fold,” said Dave O’Connor, BSCHT executive director. “There’s the obvious fundraising contribution which is significant—it will already enable us to place four new tenants in a rent local program.” 

Unlike many donations the housing trust receives, the unrestricted Winter Ball funds can also help fund BSCHT operations, O’Connor explained. 

“Even more incredible is that this came from within the community. Allen and Matt came up with this idea and executed it, and said, ‘We’re doing this thing for [the housing trust].’” 

O’Connor said he hosted many fundraisers in his hospitality career before leading the housing trust, and he’s never seen a fundraiser get started and run completely outside the organization. 

“They’ve really set an example for how simple these things can be and how much impact individual community members can have,” he said. “I’m set back on my heels a bit by what these guys have done and how they’ve done it. They’ve set a really high bar for the community… They’ve leveraged the power they have.” 

For now, the event is mostly coordinated by Zaremba and Potts, also partners at the Big Sky Real Estate Company. Next year, they hope to have more volunteers to help grow the event and its impact.  

Last year’s event at the Independent. PHOTO BY KRIS ZIGICH

“We wanted to tie a local cause to it,” Zaremba said. “Just being in the real estate industry, housing… There’s a lot the Lone Mountain Land Company is doing, and Big Sky Resort. We wanted to come up with an idea where people could contribute individually along with us.” 

Fundraising doubled in donations alone 

Last year, their goal was just to raise some money. They didn’t know if anyone was going to show up—until they sold about 80% of their tickets last-minute in typical Big Sky fashion, Zaremba said. They ended up selling out and “[cutting] a nice check” to the housing trust.  

As of mid-February, Zaremba said, “we doubled the amount we’ve raised this year, before we even sold any tickets… Just in direct donations, we’ve already received more than we raised last year.” 

He said most of those contributions came from local businesses and people around town.  

One week before the event, they’ve sold roughly half of their tickets. That’s about enough to cover the open bar tab and the cost of DJs Take a Chance and Jenn N Juice. The rest, Zaremba said, will go to the housing trust. 

“The people that are mostly participating in this party are younger people in town,” he said. “Our sponsors might be a little older, but this is a good way for people in [a younger] age range to participate. We might not donate as much money, but we can make a dent.” 

Moderate and controlled air-guitar was encouraged at last year’s event. PHOTO BY KRIS ZIGICH

Zaremba said the event is black-tie-optional, “but do your best.”  

“If you want to attend but need help with the ticket, contact me and I’ll help you out,” he said. “If you’ve been busting your butt working in the industry, you deserve a fun night out.” 

‘We all had three jobs’ 

During the 2008 recession, Zaremba moved to Vail for a sample of ski bum culture. He spent years sharing a room, sleeping on an air mattress.  

“We all had three jobs, and we all skied 100+ days a year. We were all working super hard trying to figure out how to stay in Vail,” he said.  

Almost 10 years ago, he moved to Big Sky to ski and was blown away not only by the mountain, but by the opportunity for young workers trying to figure out how to stay. He started a property management company before transitioning to real estate, and still lives in Big Sky. 

“The catch-22, like any other ski town, is housing,” he said. “Lone Mountain Land and Big Sky Resort have more projects in the works than any ski town I’ve seen over the years. I do think the housing problem will slowly get better. But we can only build housing so fast. I do think we’re ahead of other ski towns, and we’ll be better off once Lone Mountain Land and Big Sky Resort are finished.” 

The Winter Ball is a way for locals to make an immediate dent by supporting BSCHT, whose mechanisms are focused on short and long-term improvements to Big Sky’s existing housing stock, without building any units.  

“The housing trust continues to enjoy success across a spectrum of projects and programs,” O’Connor said. BSCHT wants to be able to focus on impacts today—like Rent Local—impacts this year—like Powder Light and RiverView—and impacts in five years— like Good Deeds.  

“The housing issue in Big Sky affects every single one of us,” O’Connor said. “I love that this event allows such a broad spectrum of our community to celebrate.” 

“It’s a fun night out for everybody,” Zaremba said. “It’s for a good cause. It’s definitely close to the heart for me, because I’ve been there in a ski town before, trying to figure out how to stay.  

“I think Big Sky is going to solve this problem better than [other ski towns],” he added. “If we’re all going to talk about how housing is an issue, there’s little ways like this that we can contribute. This is one way that people can give back.” 

Zaremba encouraged anyone interested in sponsoring a local worker’s ticket to email or call him at 406-580-6134. 

Beverages are aplenty at the Big Sky Winter Ball. PHOTO BY KRIS ZIGICH

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