New England skiing was icy over the holidays. Washingtonians contemplating a trip to New Hampshire or Vermont in the near future should take heed.

But don't cancel any plans.January and February have always been the least crowded months. That means more skiing, cheaper lift tickets, shorter lift lines and probably more snow staying on the slopes. Snow conditions at some areas will improve more rapidly than in others because of differences in snowfall, snow-making capability, grooming of the slopes, and the extent of previous icy conditions. Here are some tips on how to go about carefully planning a New England pilgrimmage.

The icy conditions began on Christmas Day - that heavy snowfall that was predicted for Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine turned out to be rain on the slopes. New Hampshire got it bad; Vermont and Maine a little less so. Only a few at the higher elevations received sleet or small amounts of snow. The rain was followed by the crunch of the Christmas crowd and several near-zero days and nights. The result was a very hard, packed, frozen granular surface.

Ski areas need more time to break up and groom slopes under those conditions than holiday crowds permit. According to Bill Norton, manager of Cannon Mountain, "it was just impossible to keep up with the skiing pressure. v er to lay down machine-made snow. That would just add to the job on the remaining trails and lifts."

In addition, the upper trails on most mountains have been particularly icy since they're usually beyond reach of snow-making equipment. Also, area managers have been reluctant to send the "snowcaps" up to groom the upper slopes where breaking up the frozen surface while the base was still thin would mean too much snow being lost to the wind.

Conditions will improve, but any New England ski trip in the future should be planned around three considerations:

First, most areas need natural snow to impove the expert trails on the upper slopes. A few inches fell in Vermont and New Hampshire on New Year's Day. The lower trails tend to be in better shape, so beginners and intermediate skiers will have more to choose from.

Second, the northernmost resorts such as Stowe, Jay Peak, Wilderness and Sugarloaf escaped most of the rain or got snow. Areas with higher elevations, like Killington and Cannon, also fared better.

Third, areas with complete snowmaking coverage, like Killington, will also revover rapidly from the Christmas crunch.

Since there is always some ice to be found regardless of where you ski, here are some pointers:

Sharpen your edges, particularly on the forward half of each ski, but remember to leave the edges dull near the tips.

Ski low with your weight forward but your torso straight.

When you turn, think about driving your knees to the tips of your skis and sink down. This will make your edges bite, help you in carving turns in crusty conditions, and help keep your weight forward. (If there is one most-common fault among skiers, it is that they ski too far back. Skiing far back on icy conditions will make your tail spin out from under you, and every skier knows what happens then.)

Ski ahead of yourself. Plan your turns and stops for patches of good snow. The heaviest traffic is on the middle of a slope or trail, so better conditions are usually found along the edges.

Bank your turns off moguls or the raised edges of the trails.

Finally, ski under control and remember the downhill skier has the right of way.