The meltwater from glaciers in Alaska contributes strongly to global sea-level rise, but accurate determination is challenging as only two comparatively small glaciers have long-term measurements of annual mass balance (Gulkana and Wolverine). Simple upscaling of their values to the entire region is error-prone as their representativeness is unknown and might be biased. Alternatively, differencing digital elevation models (DEMs) from two epochs provides overall volume changes for a longer period of time that can be converted to mass changes using appropriate density assumptions. Here we combine outlines from two glacier inventories to determine glacier-specific elevation changes over a 50 year period for 3180 glaciers in western Alaska using DEM differencing. This allows us to determine the representativeness of the land-terminating Gulkana and Wolverine Glaciers for the entire region and to exclude calving glaciers (marine and lacustrine) from the sample. Mean changes for all land-terminating, lake-terminating and tidewater glaciers are –0.23 ± 0.44, –0.63 ± 0.40 and –0.64 ± 0.66ma⁻¹, respectively, and –0.7 and –0.6ma⁻¹ for the two mass-balance or benchmark glaciers. Thus fortuitously their changes better represent calving glaciers and the overall mean (–0.63 ± 1.14ma⁻¹) than the change of land-terminating glaciers, i.e. they are not representative for their own type. Different methods of considering potential DEM artefacts provide variable mean changes but the same general result.