Continuous surface debris cover strongly reduces the ablation of glaciers, but high melt rates may occur at ice cliffs that are too steep to hold debris. This study assesses the contribution of ice-cliff backwasting to total ablation of Miage glacier, Mont Blanc massif, Italy, in 2010 and 2011, based on field measurements, physical melt models and mapping of ice cliffs using a high-resolution (1 m) digital elevation model (DEM). Short-term model calculations closely match the measured melt rates. A model sensitivity analysis indicates that the effects of cliff slope and albedo are more important for ablation than enhanced longwave incidence from sun-warmed debris or reduced turbulent fluxes at sheltered cliff bases. Analysis of the DEM indicates that ice cliffs account for at most 1.3\% of the 1 m pixels in the glacier's debris-covered zone, but application of a distributed model indicates that ice cliffs account for 7.4\% of total ablation. We conclude that ice cliffs make an important contribution to the ablation of debris-covered glaciers, even when their spatial extent is very small.