High-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) generated by airborne remote sensing are frequently used to analyze landform structures (monotemporal) and geomorphological processes (multitemporal) in remote areas or areas of extreme terrain. In order to assess and quantify such structures and processes it is necessary to know the absolute accuracy of the available DEMs. This study assesses the absolute vertical accuracy of DEMs generated by the High Resolution Stereo Camera-Airborne (HRSC-A), the Leica Air-borne Digital Sensors 40/80 (ADS40 and ADS80) and the analogue camera system RC30. The study area is located in the Turtmann valley, Valais, Switzerland, a glacially and periglacially formed hanging valley stretching from 2400 m to 3300 m a.s.l. The photogrammetrically derived DEMs are evaluated against geodetic field measurements and an airborne laser scan (ALS). Traditional and robust global and local accuracy measurements are used to describe the vertical quality of the DEMs, which show a non Gaussian distribution of errors. The results show that all four sensor systems produce DEMs with similar accuracy despite their different setups and generations. The ADS40 and ADS80 (both with a ground sampling distance of 0.50 m) generate the most accurate DEMs in complex high mountain areas with a RMSE of 0.8 m and NMAD of 0.6 m They also show the highest accuracy relating to flying height (0.14‰). The push-broom scanning system HRSC-A produces a RMSE of 1.03 m and a NMAD of 0.83 m (0.21‰ accuracy of the flying height and 10 times the ground sampling distance). The analogue camera system RC30 produces DEMs with a vertical accuracy of 1.30 m RMSE and 0.83 m NMAD (0.17‰ accuracy of the flying height and two times the ground sampling distance). It is also shown that the performance of the DEMs strongly depends on the inclination of the terrain. The RMSE of areas up to an inclination <40° is better than 1 m. In more inclined areas the error and outlier occurrence increase for all DEMs. This study shows the level of detail to which airborne stereoscopically derived DEMs can reliably be used in high mountain environments. All four sensor systems perform similarly in flat terrain.