Airborne lidar is a remote sensing method commonly used for mapping surface topography in high resolution. A water surface in hydrostatic equilibrium theoretically represents a gravity potential isosurface. Here we compare lidar-based ellipsoidal water surface height measurements all around the shore of a major lake with a local high-resolution quasi-geoid model. The ellipsoidal heights of the 87 km(2) we sampled all around the shore of the 597 km(2) lake surface vary by 0.8m and strong spatial correlation with the quasi-geoid undulation was calculated (R-2 = 0.91). After subtraction of the local geoid undulation from the measured ellipsoidal water surface heights, their variation was considerably reduced. Based on a network of water gauge measurements, dynamic water surface heights were also successfully corrected for. This demonstrates that the water surface heights of the lake were truly determined by the local gravity potential. We conclude that both the level of hydrostatic equilibrium of the lake and the accuracy of airborne lidar were sufficient for identifying the spatial variations of gravity potential.