Cutthroats in STREAM: Brent Bernard '78

For Cutthroat Brent Bernard '78, a lifelong love of the wilderness and a deep passion for the recreational opportunities it fosters led him to his current career as a hydrologist for the National Weather Service, a job he describes as one that blends many of the earth sciences, namely meteorology, geology, and surface water hydrology. For Brent, applying these sciences in a fulfilling career is a dream come true.

“What I love about my job is that I can directly relate to it,” said Brent, whose passions for skiing, rafting, fishing, kitesurfing, and kayaking tie into his career on a daily basis. “Weather affects us all; it’s about understanding our environment, our climate, and how that understanding can enhance our lives and the national economy and offer decision makers support services that reduce risk and improve understanding and safety.”

Growing up in the Wood River Valley surrounded by mountains, forests, and rivers initially inspired Brent’s love of geology and water sciences. He fondly recalls running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River at age nine, learning to kayak at age 14—and becoming obsessed with time on the river thereafter—and completing his first (unsupervised) trip to the famed Elephant’s Perch at 15. As a high school student, Brent said, fall trips with Community School into the Sawtooth Mountains forever set him up to be inspired and curious about the natural landscapes of the world and the processes that formed them.

“I loved the intimacy of the small school at that time,” said Brent. “The attention I was given, the high standards that were expected of me, and the flexibility to pursue my athletic ambitions, along with the encouragement I was provided to succeed by nearly every teacher at the school, offered a challenging and wonderful experience. The school’s emphasis on academics definitely set me up to be successful in college.”

Following his graduation from Community School in 1978, Brent spent two years pursuing postgraduate alpine ski racing. When the head alpine coach for Montana State (MSU) offered him a spot on the school’s NCAA team, Brent accepted, and his college racing career took off in 1981. While at MSU, his love of the mountains led him to enroll in the geology program. Over the next two years, Brent studied, coached skiing at Bridger Bowl, and worked in Sun Valley during the summer. In the spring of 1983, he took time off to run the Grand Canyon before continuing his studies in 1984 at the University of Idaho in Moscow, where he graduated Cum Laude in December of 1985.

In 1986, after spending a winter season coaching the Jackson Hole Ski team, Brent accepted a position as a Hydrographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coast and Geodetic Survey in Alaska. That job was just the beginning of a series of assignments with NOAA that took him around the world, including postings in Colorado, Europe, Canada, Maryland, Australia, and Hawaii, before he moved to Salt Lake City to accept a role as a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in 1997. For the last 20 years, Brent has been forecasting spring runoff, flash flooding, and assisting dam operators manage river flows and reservoirs throughout the Colorado Basin.

Brent and wife Michele have three adult children between them and split their time between Salt Lake City and Hailey. Brent plans to retire in the not-too-distant future and return to the Wood River Valley to be close to family, friends, the mountains, and the community that have always inspired him.