Dealing with Danger: Curt Kohlberg Experiences Avalanches, Adventure, and Plenty of Poker

By Sean Chaffin Curt Kohlberg (pictured) jumped out of the helicopter with a full view of snow and trees below. He hit the snow and began his descent. He’d been helicopter skiing before in the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, but that day in 2015 would be different. The Monashees feature elevations as high as 10,000…

Matt Clark
Jan 29, 2019

By Sean Chaffin

Curt Kohlberg

Curt Kohlberg (pictured) jumped out of the helicopter with a full view of snow and trees below. He hit the snow and began his descent. He’d been helicopter skiing before in the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, but that day in 2015 would be different.

The Monashees feature elevations as high as 10,000 feet, and heli-skiing takes skiers off trails to remote areas high up in the mountains. It was the type of trip that the 60-year-old lived for. Along with the remoteness of the experience, there were other dangers.

“It’s tree skiing,” says Kohlberg, who is from Boston, Massachusetts, and among those in the Day 2 field in the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open. “So you’re always skiing through forest that’s unmarked. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s a great adrenaline rush.”

As he zipped downward, he doesn’t remember hearing a distinct rumble or sound, but the snow suddenly slid out below him. He found himself hurtling down the mountain, coasting along with an avalanche of snow.

“It’s like someone pulling the carpet out from underneath you,” he says. “You immediately can’t ski and are knocked to the ground.”

As he slid down, Kohlberg tried to grab a tree for safety. Luckily, he wasn’t covered in snow and survived with only an injured arm. But he knows it could have been so much worse. This adrenaline junkie admits the incident scared the hell out of him at the time, but adds: “It was worth it.”


When not jumping out of helicopters, Kohlberg is a regular at WPT events. He retired five years ago after starting and running two companies in the market research and strategy consulting space. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kohlberg has been running deep and making big scores in WPT events for more than a decade.

“I’ve never played online and I don’t play cash games,” he says. “I’ve been really fortunate.”

In life as a recreational poker player, Kohlberg has $3.3 million in live tournament winnings and that includes $1.68 million on the WPT. He now plays one tournament a month, WPT events almost exclusively. That includes four final table appearances and almost adding his name to the Champions Cup in Season IX, finishing runner-up at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown for $586,109.

Curt Kohlberg

Some players might remember him from past tournaments by his nom de guerre “Psycho Ninja,” for his wild and colorful hoodies. The Psycho Ninja garb isn’t here at Borgata, but Kohlberg’s hoping to add another deep run this week.

Poker, traveling, and adventure are big parts of his life, but he tries to focus on things that have an impact with others as well. He admits, “I’ve made more mistakes than anyone I know,” but he loves helping others in need.

That includes mentoring and working with young people, especially economically disadvantaged youth. His new foundation hopes to expand this work even more with plans to launch some big initiatives later this year. He’s excited about the group’s future.

“I get the most satisfaction in life helping young people that do not have advantages,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Adventure Life

Adventure and travel occupy much of Kohlberg’s time. He’s visited 75 countries and many of those trips involved plenty of action, adventure, and the occasional brush with death.

“I’m kind of a thrill seeker,” he says. “I like to do a lot of crazy things. I almost died in a kite surfing accident. I came one breath away from dying.”

That incident was in 2018 on a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Kohlberg became tangled in the lines as he whisked across the Atlantic. The kite stayed aloft and then dragged him through the water upside down. His head was submerged with his hands over his head. The scenario had Kohlberg believing his life was over.

“I was able to kick up twice to get air and was completely gasping,” he says. “After the second time, I said ‘I’m giving up. I don’t have any more strength.’ And somehow the kite came down and I was finally rescued. It was terrible.”

The near-misses haven’t slowed him down, and he was kite surfing again six months later. He also has another heli-skiing trip planned next week. Another passion is being around and working with elephants, and he’s developed an appreciation for wildlife.

“Elephants are kind of my thing,” he says. “I’ve been to multiple places in Africa to view them, and I’ve also taken care of them and spent time with them. They’re the most incredible creatures on the planet.”

Passage Through Patagonia

Always looking to traverse new places, ice climbing was on the agenda on a recent trip to Patagonia, a region in the southernmost end of South American in Chile and Argentina. The area is a travel hotspot – sparsely populated with massive granite mountains, brilliant lakes, enormous glaciers, and stunning views.

Curt Kohlberg WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open

The area is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream and offers plenty – from hiking in Torres del Paine National Park to whale watching to visiting Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the continent. The adventure opportunities are too numerous to list and Kohlberg took the trip with his wife and traveling partner, Allegra (pictured). They did plenty of hiking, exploring the numerous parks and countryside, and took on some whitewater rafting.

The Kohlbergs have three children, and his family realizes he loves these types of thrills and experiences. However, Allegra has, on occasion, made sure things were in order in case of his untimely demise – including a paragliding trip in Cortina, Italy, from an elevation of 11,000 feet.

“When she got to the top, she just wanted to make sure all the papers were signed properly,” he says laughing. “And then she said, ‘Go.'”


“They just know it’s what I enjoy, and that I view life as something that should be lived to the fullest and to go out without any regrets. I just try to be a good person and they know when my time is up, it’s up. But I’m taking measured risks, even if it doesn’t sound that way.”

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.

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